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China Hands Prison Terms to 3 Activists Promoting ‘Non-Violent Civil Disobedience’

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A court in China has sentenced three activists to years in prison for promoting ideas of “nonviolent civil disobedience,” in what human-rights groups have denounced as further evidence of a campaign to crush peaceful dissent in the country.

Human Rights Watch said the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court’s on Friday sentenced human-rights lawyer Tang Jingling, writer Yuan Xinting and teacher Wang Qingying to five years, three-and-a-half years and two-and-a-half years, respectively, for “inciting subversion of state power.” The men have already been detained for 20 months, during which time they have all suffered alleged mistreatment at the hands of Chinese authorities.

The three earned the nickname the “Three Gentlemen of Guangzhou” for their activities inspired by thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi, the New York Times reports.

According to Amnesty International, evidence cited against the three men in court included their publication of books promoting peaceful activism, including the book From Dictatorship to Democracy by American writer Gene Sharp. China’s Communist Party rulers have been cracking down on dissent by detaining critics and human-rights advocates since last year, among them at least two men linked to Hong Kong publishing house Mighty Current Media (three others from the same firm are missing and presumed detained).

“The Chinese government needs to stop equating peaceful criticism with subversion if it is to make any progress towards respecting rights,” Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The prosecution of three rights activists on such dubious charges shows how far Beijing needs to go.”

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Write to Simon Lewis at simon_daniel.lewis@timeasia.com