Two Chinese activists who backed HK democracy protests jailed

Venus Wu and Katy Wong

(Changes headline to make clear activists were Chinese)

HONG KONG, March 31 (Reuters) - Two Chinese activists who

supported pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were jailed by a

court in southern China on Friday for subverting state power,

but their lawyer said their heavy sentences were part of an

ongoing crackdown on civil society.

Su Changlan and Chen Qitang, who both faced "incitement to

subvert state power" charges, were jailed for three and

four-and-a-half years respectively by a court in Foshan close to

Guangzhou, according to their lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan.

The verdict made no mention of Hong Kong.

At least four other Chinese activists who have been put

behind bars for supporting Hong Kong's large pro-democracy,

"umbrella movement" protests in 2014. At least 100 people in

China had been detained for voicing support for the

demonstrations, according to Amnesty International.

Liu said he was very angry and disappointed at both the

heavy sentence and what he called the court's disrespect of the

law.

"They have alternative opinions and views, and sometimes

they can be very critical of the government, but this does not

mean they are subverting state power," Liu said.

"Now they've been sentenced heavily ... our freedom of

speech will only be further restricted."

Liu said the case had dragged on for an unreasonable amount

of time, and the pair planned to appeal.

Security was tight around the courthouse, with scores of

police blocking the area, according to footage carried by Hong

Kong's Cable TV.

Su, a prominent women's rights advocate in Southern China,

had been taken into police custody by Guangzhou police in late

2014 for expressing support on social media for the Hong Kong

protests. Su suffered from a thyroid ailment and had been denied

multiple requests for bail on medical grounds.

Chen, meanwhile, had posted articles in support of human

rights and Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, according to

Amnesty International.

Both had pleaded not guilty. Calls to the Foshan people's

court went unanswered.

"The Chinese authorities are very scared that universal

values would affect the (Chinese) public ... This is how Hong

Kong is dangerous in the Chinese authorities' eyes," said Chow

Hang-tung, a barrister and vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong

Alliance that champions democratic causes.

"Hong Kong is all about the rule of law and democracy."

China's leadership has overseen a sweeping crackdown on

activists since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012,

including detaining or imprisoning dozens of rights lawyers in

what the government says is the targeting of criminal acts.

The once relatively vibrant civil society in southern

Guangdong province has been smothered by authorities in recent

years, with scores of detentions and convictions of human rights

lawyers and activists in various areas including labour.

Last weekend, a Chinese Australia-based academic, Feng

Chongyi, was blocked from boarding a flight home from Guangzhou,

and remains in a hotel in the city. Feng had been

meeting with fellow academics and intellectuals while in China,

as well as human rights lawyers as part of his research.

China also confirmed on Wednesday it had detained a Taiwan

human rights activist, Lee Ming-che, and was investigating him

on suspicion of harming national security.

(Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Michael Perry)