(Geneva) UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said he was “very concerned” on Monday after a Chinese court sentenced two human rights lawyers to more than ten years in prison .

Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were found guilty on Sunday of “subversion of state power” after a closed trial.

The two colleagues are leading figures in the New Citizens Movement, a civil rights group that calls for constitutional reform and accuses the government of corruption.

“I am very concerned that two prominent human rights defenders in China […] have been sentenced to long prison terms, in violation of international human rights standards,” Türk said in a statement.

“Human rights law requires that people not be persecuted or punished for expressing criticism of government policies,” he added, emphasizing the need for a fair trial, due process and investigations into possible ill-treatment.

Xu Zhiyong, who called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch, a sentence handed down by a Shandong court. (East).

As for Ding Jiaxi, he “was sentenced to 12 years in prison and banned from holding public office for three years,” his wife Luo Shengchun told AFP.

Human rights advocates have often raised concerns about the impartiality of Chinese courts, which have a conviction rate of nearly 99%.

“I will consult the authorities on these cases,” Volker Türk said, stressing the importance of “taking steps” to protect the rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly.

Ding Jiaxi was arrested in December 2019 after attending a secret meeting attended by human rights activists and lawyers, including Xu Zhiyong.

Mr. Xu, a former law professor, was arrested in February 2020 after posting online messages in which he castigated Xi Jinping’s handling of crises, including COVID-19 and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.