Ai Weiwei’s Lawyer, Zhou Shifeng, Sentenced to Seven Years for ‘Subversion’

The trial lasted half a day.

Ai Weiwei with his Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sculpture. Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images.

Chinese lawyer Zhou Shifeng, who has represented star artist Ai Weiwei, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for subversion after what Al-Jazeera describes as a trial lasting just half a day.

Deutsche Welle reports that Zhou went after a giant dairy producer in a case involving tainted baby formula in 2008, and that since then he has represented members of the banned Falun Gong religious sect and other persecuted groups.

The Second Intermediate People’s Court, in the northern city of Tianjin, found Zhou, 52, guilty of “subverting state power,” says the state-run news agency Xinhua. He worked for Beijing’s Fengrui law firm.

Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. (2013), a six-part work composed of (i) S upper, (ii) A ccusers, (iii) C leansing, (iv) R itual, (v) E ntropy, (vi) D oubt. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. (2013), a six-part work composed of (i) S upper, (ii) A ccusers, (iii) C leansing, (iv) R itual, (v) E ntropy, (vi) D oubt. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Xinhua says that Zhou confessed that “some overseas forces” had been “wooing me, and want to use us to challenge court hearings and China’s entire judicial system, making trouble for the Chinese government.” Xinhua maintains that he additionally confessed that those “outside forces want to overturn the leadership of the Communist Party of China.”

Zhou and other lawyers in the firm had been reported “missing” by the South China Morning Post in July after three “unidentified men” took Zhou away.

Ai did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The artist was detained for 81 days in 2011 and sustained a beating by the authorities after his criticism of the government’s substandard construction of elementary schools in which thousands of children died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He has shown artworks based on the tragedy throughout the world.

This is not the first time one of Ai’s lawyers has ran afoul of Chinese authorities. Pu Zhiqiang, a well-known human rights activist, was arrested in June of 2014 after attending a meeting commemorating the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He was convicted in December, and given a three-year suspended prison sentence. Though Pu will avoid additional jail time provided he stays out of trouble, the New York Times reports that under Chinese law, his career as a lawyer is over.


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