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Resources updated between Monday, December 25, 2017 and Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 31, 2017

Iranian protestors in Tehran

An official in Tehran said on Sunday that 200 people were arrested during the previous night's protests in the Iranian capital, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.

"These individuals are now with the judiciary and some others have been freed out of clemency," Ali Asghar Nasserbakht, a security deputy for Tehran's governor, told ILNA.

He said 40 of those arrested were "leaders" and that their protests had not been related to the economy.

"Some opposition groups from abroad make our youth emotional," he said.

Several hundred people protested around the University of Tehran on Saturday, and there were reports of vandalism during the night, including an attack on a town hall.

The protests in Tehran appear to be smaller than many of those seen in towns and cities around the country since Thursday, where there have been few reports about the number of arrests.

200 arrested during Saturday protests in Tehran Document

University students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police

The total number of arrests from the protests around Iran remains unclear.

An official in Arak, around 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Tehran, says 80 people had been detained there overnight.

Police have so far taken a relatively soft approach to the unrest, and there has been no sign that the powerful Revolutionary Guards have yet been deployed.

Iranian authorities have blamed external forces for fomenting the protests, saying the majority of social media reports were emanating from regional rival Saudi Arabia or exile groups based in Europe.

President Hassan Rouhani has so far not made any statement since the protests started.

80 arrested in Arak, but overall number of Iran detainees unclear Document

Iranian students scuffle with police at the University of Tehran

An Iranian official is blaming "foreign agents" for the shooting deaths of two protesters during widespread anti-government demonstrations Saturday.

"No shots were fired by the police and security forces," Habibollah Khojastehpour, a deputy governor of the province where the protesters were killed. "We have found evidence of enemies of the revolution, Takfiri groups and foreign agents in this clash," he said in an interview on state television Sunday.

The shootings happened in the western town of Dorud on the third day of protests. VOA's Persian service identified the victims as Hamzeh Lashni and Hossein Reshno after a reporter spoke to the victims' families.

Video posted to social media purported to show the two victims following the shootings. Other online video showed thousands of people protesting in several cities throughout Iran - including some attacking government buildings and violently confronting police.

There were reports that mobile devices were unable to access the internet for a period of time Saturday, though coverage was restored later in the day. But Iranian media reported on Sunday that access to some photo and message sharing apps was again restricted.

Protesters will 'pay the price'

Earlier Sunday, Iran's interior minister warned that those who "disrupt the order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price." Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli, in a statement on state television, said "fear and terror will definitely be confronted."

The uprisings - the biggest and most sustained since the 2009 presidential election protests - were sparked by high food prices and the country's high unemployment rate. As many as 72 people died in the 2009 unrest after the regime cracked down demonstrators challenging the reelection of then-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The latest demonstrations were seen as a cry against President Hassan Rouhani, who won re-election in May with promises to revive the economy.

Iran's 2015 nuclear deal is seen as Rouhani's major achievement. The deal, made with the United States and five other world powers, curbed Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions. But economic growth has not followed, and people are struggling to cope with the high cost of living.

Iran's unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, its economy stagnant and inflation rampant.

Little information about the protests is available, however, because state-run and semi-official news media have not widely reported on the demonstrations.

As a counter to the violence, separate state-sponsored rallies took place around the country to mark the end of the unrest that shook the country in 2009. State television reported pro-government rallies were held in about 1,200 cities and towns.

Cautions on social media use

Iran's telecommunications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi sent a public message to the CEO of the messaging service Telegram, telling him, "A Telegram channel is encouraging hateful conduct: use of Molotov cocktails, armed uprising, and social unrest." Telegram responded saying it had suspended the account.

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov also tweeted a public message, explaining why the account was suspended.

"A Telegram channel [amadnews] started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktail against police and got suspended due to our 'no calls for violence' rule. Be careful," Durov said. "There are lines one shouldn't cross."

A prominent cleric, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, told thousands of pro-government demonstrators in Tehran that "the enemy" wanted to use social media and economic issues to "foment a new sedition."

State television broadcast images of the protests Saturday, something it rarely does, including acknowledging that some of the demonstrators were chanting the name of Iran's last shah, who fled the country during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.


U.S. President Donald Trump denounced the Iranian government Saturday, tweeting excerpts from his September 19 speech to the U.N. General Assembly. He charged Rouhani's government, and those before it, have long oppressed the Iranian people.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said, "Iran's leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state, whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos."

The State Department urged "all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption."

Iranian Official Blames 'Foreign Agents' for Protester Deaths Document

Irania social media users

Iran cut access to social media on Sunday in a bid to head off further protests after days of unrest that saw two people killed and dozens arrested.

The interior minister warned protesters will "pay the price" as footage on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass demonstrations in 2009.

The spate of demonstrations began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and turned against the Islamic system as a whole, with slogans such as "Death to the dictator".

Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in clashes in the small western town of Dorud late on Saturday, but denied security forces were responsible.

There were no signs of major protests during the day on Sunday, though officials appeared to be bracing for unrest after dark.

In an apparent attempt to stave off more unrest, the authorities began blocking access to photo sharing and online messaging services on mobile phones, including Telegram, which the government accused of being used to foment violence, local media and Telegram's CEO said.

After an initial silence, state media has begun showing footage of unrest, focusing on young men violently targeting banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag.

"Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and pay the price," Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.

"The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted," he added.

US President Donald Trump said the "big protests" showed people "were getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism".

"Looks like they will not take it any longer," he wrote on Twitter, warning that Washington is "watching very closely for human rights violations!"

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he was "watching events in Iran with concern".

Iranian authorities have sought to distinguish anti-regime protesters from what they see as legitimate economic grievances.

"Do not get excited," parliament director for international affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a tweet directed at Trump.

"Sedition, unrest and chaos are different from gatherings and peaceful protests to pursue people's livelihoods," he said.

But there have been reminders of the continued support for the regime among conservative sections of society, with pro-regime students holding another day of demonstrations at the University of Tehran on Sunday.

They had outnumbered protesters at the university the day before, although online videos showed significant protests around parts of central Tehran later in the evening.

Dozens arrested -

The total number of arrests from the protests around the country remained unclear.

An official in Arak, around 300 kilometres (190 miles) southwest of Tehran, said 80 people had been detained there overnight.

Police have so far taken a relatively soft approach to the unrest, and there has been no sign that the powerful Revolutionary Guards have yet been deployed.

Iranian authorities have blamed external forces for fomenting the protests, saying the majority of social media reports were emanating from regional rival Saudi Arabia or exile groups based in Europe.

President Hassan Rouhani has so far not made any statement since the protests started.

He came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but anger over high living costs and a 12-percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.

Unemployment is particularly high among young people, who have grown up in a less restrictive environment and are generally considered less deferential to authority.

"Rouhani has run an austerity budget since 2013 with the idea that it's a tough but necessary pill to swallow to manage inflation and currency problems and try to improve Iran's attractiveness for investment," said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

"But choosing years of austerity immediately after a very tough period of sanctions is bound to test people's patience," he told AFP.

Since the ruthless repression of the 2009 protests against a disputed presidential election that gave hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of securing change from the streets.

But low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, with bus drivers, teachers and factory workers protesting against unpaid wages and poor conditions.

Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly Document

Protestors in Tehran

The growing unrest over the economic woes plaguing Iran turned deadly as two protesters were killed at a rally amid warnings Sunday from the country's government that anyone who disrupts order and breaks the law "must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price" as Presdient Trump said the U.S. is "watching very closely."

The deaths were the first of the demonstrations, which began Thursday and appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since the protests that followed the country's disputed 2009 presidential election. 

"On Saturday evening, there was an illegal protest in Dorud and a number of people took to the streets responding to calls from hostile groups, leading to clashes," said Habibollah Khojastehpour, the deputy governor of the western Lorestan province, according to Sky News. "Unfortunately in these clashes two citizens from Dorud were killed."

Khojastehpour told state television that "no shots were fired by the police and security forces" and "foreign agents" and "enemies of the revolutions" were to blame.

A Revolutionary Guards Telegram channel blamed the deaths on "people armed with hunting and military weapons" who "entered the protests and started shooting randomly toward the crowd and the governor's building," according to Sky News, adding that six people also were wounded.

Videos circulating on social media late Saturday appeared to show fallen protesters in Doroud as gunshots sounded in the background, although the footage could not be independently confirmed.

The killings came as interior minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli warned Iranians about participating in the protests.

"Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price," Sky News quoted Fazli as saying early Sunday on state television.

The CEO of the popular messaging app Telegram, which protesters have used to plan and publicize demonstrations, according to the Associated Press, also said Sunday that Iran has been "blocking access... for the majority of Iranians." Iranians said the app is now inaccessible by mobile phone networks.

Thousands have taken to the streets of cities across Iran, beginning on Thursday in Mashhad, the country's second-largest city and a holy site for Shiite pilgrims.

At least 50 protesters have been arrested since Thursday, authorities said Saturday. State TV said some protesters chanted the name of the U.S.-backed shah, who fled into exile just before Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and later died, according to the Associated Press.

The protests have also spread to Iran's capital of Tehran, and on Saturday, tens of thousands of government supporters marched in cities to show their support for the regime, Sky News reported.

On Sunday, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported that authorities have arrested some 80 protesters in the city of Arak, some 173 miles south of Tehran.

President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday that "people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism."

Texas Rep. Will Hurd said a day earlier that the "Iranian regime is of course trying to suppress the fact that protests against their tyrannical reign are popping up across Iran.

"The Ayatollahs are out of touch with their citizens and are exporting terror abroad," the Republican congressman wrote in a message on his Facebook page. "We should support a free and peaceful Iran. We should support the people of Iran who have had enough."

But Iran has dismissed American support for the protests.

"Iranian people give no credit to the deceitful and opportunist remarks of U.S. officials or Mr. Trump," Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Saturday, according to a state television report.

Iran's economy has improved since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars' worth of Western aircraft.

That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran's hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.

Some analysts outside of Iran have suggested that may be because the economic protests initially just put pressure on the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate whose administration struck the nuclear deal.

Iran protests turn deadly as 2 killed amid warnings from the regime Document

December 30, 2017

A Iranian woman protested on a street corner without her hijab

The Iranian government warned people against further protests on Saturday after two days of demonstrations sparked by anger over an array of economic problems.

"We urge all those who receive these calls to protest not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens," said Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli.

State news channel IRINN said it had been banned from covering the protests that spread from second city Mashhad on Thursday to hit several towns and cities.

The protests initially targeted economic problems, but quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole.

US President Donald Trump warned "the world is watching" after dozens of demonstrators were arrested.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi dismissed Trump's comments as "irrelevant" and "opportunistic".

Media coverage inside Iran focused almost exclusively on pro-regime rallies held on Saturday to mark the defeat of the last major protest movement in 2009, which hardliners call "the sedition".

The timing was coincidental, since the rallies are held every year on this day, but offered a handy show of strength to the regime as huge crowds of black-clad supporters gathered across the country.

"The enemy wants once again to create a new plot and use social media and economic issues to foment a new sedition," Ayatollah Mohsen Araki told a crowd in Tehran, according to the conservative Fars news agency.

Video footage on social media showed hundreds marching through the holy city of Qom on Friday evening, with people chanting "Death to the dictator" and "Free political prisoners".

There were even chants in favour of the monarchy toppled by the Islamic revolution of 1979, while others criticised the regime for supporting the Palestinians and other regional movements rather than focusing on problems at home.

Footage showed thousands gathered in the cities of Rasht, Hamedan, Kermanshah, Qazvin and elsewhere, with police responding with water cannons.

Officials were quick to blame outside forces for the unrest.

"Although people have a right to protest, protesters must know how they are being directed," Massoumeh Ebtekar, vice president in charge of women's affairs, wrote on Twitter.

She posted images from Twitter accounts based in the United States and Saudi Arabia, voicing support for the Mashhad protests.

'Serious challenges' -

Nonetheless, officials warned against dismissing the public anger seen in recent days.

"The country is facing serious challenges with unemployment, high prices, corruption, lack of water, social gap, unbalanced distribution of budget," wrote Hesamoddin Ashena, cultural adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, on Twitter.

"People have the right for their voice to be heard."

There has been particular anger at welfare cuts and fuel price increases in the latest budget announced earlier this month.

Since the 2009 protests were ruthlessly put down by the Revolutionary Guards, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of pressing for change from the streets.

But low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, often on a sector-by-sector basis as bus drivers or teachers or workers from specific factories protest against unpaid wages or poor conditions.

Some of this week's protests were directed against financial scandals linked to unauthorised lending institutions which collapsed with the loss of hundreds of thousands of accounts.

Payam Parhiz, editor-in-chief of reformist media network Nazar that broke the news of the Mashhad protests, said they were more focused on the economy than those in 2009, which were sparked by allegations of election-rigging.

"Then, they were middle-class and their slogans went beyond economic matters to things like cultural liberties," he told AFP.

"Today, the concerns are economic. There are people who have lost their life savings. They will protest until their problems are resolved."

Since taking power in 2013, Rouhani has sought to clean up the banking sector and kickstart the economy, but many say progress has been too slow.

Aware that economic problems can quickly spiral into political chaos, officials from across the political spectrum have called for greater efforts to tackle poverty and the 12 percent unemployment rate.

"Solving people's economic problems is the chief priority in the country," tweeted Ebrahim Raisi, the hardline cleric defeated by Rouhani in May's presidential election.

Iran warns against 'illegal gatherings' after protests Document

An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas during an anti-government protest at the University of Tehran

Iranian police and plainclothes security officers mobilized Saturday to quell a third straight day of nationwide anti-government demonstrations that for the first time reached the capital, where the chants among protesters included: "Death to the dictator!"

The bold reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - the all-powerful leader of a theocracy that for 38 years has stage-managed street demonstrations and stifled public expression - reflected the depth of frustration driving the biggest show of public discontent that Iran has seen in years.

Anti-riot police on motorcycles broke up an unauthorized gathering of about 200 people at Tehran's Engelab Square while authorities in the central city of Shahreh Kord fired tear gas as the government tried to keep the apparently spontaneous demonstrations from gaining momentum.

Witnesses said police detained at least 12 demonstrators and stationed water cannons near Engelab Square (Englelab means "revolution" in Farsi) after dozens were arrested in other cities a day earlier. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, cautioned Iranians against taking part in "illegal gatherings."

"Police and law enforcement have tried to manage the situation," Fazli said.

At the same time, thousands of pro-government demonstrators took to the streets to commemorate the suppression of the last major street protests in Iran, in 2009, following the disputed reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The annual rallies had been planned earlier, but the choreographed chants of "Death to America!" took on added significance as a counterweight to the unauthorized economic protests.

The anti-government demonstrations that began Thursday in Mashhad, Iran's second largest city, have now spread to more than 10 cities and appear to be driven by frustration over a stagnant economy, official corruption and soaring prices for eggs and other basic goods.

As the rallies gathered steam, protesters - most in their 20s and 30s - also called for the release of political prisoners and chanted against both the hard-line Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who has failed to deliver on promises of economic and social reform.

Many analysts expected police and the government's feared Basij volunteer militia to clamp down hard. Ahmad Khatami, a firebrand cleric who is close to the ruling establishment, called on Friday for a heavy-handed crackdown against "anarchists who violate the law."

But the security presence did not deter demonstrators in Engelab Square, near Tehran University. They chanted, "Death to this deceitful government," and "We will die, we will die, we will take back Iran."

Plans for further protests Saturday night and Sunday were ricocheting across Telegram, a widely used messaging app.

"People ask me what will happen next," Abbas Abdi, a leader of the 1979 seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran who is now an influential advocate of political reforms, wrote in a newspaper column. "And I can say that people can tolerate economic pressure but not humiliation."

Analysts said one of the anti-government protests had been organized by Ahmadinejad, a populist who sought to highlight Rouhani's handling of the economy. Another occurred in the western province of Kermanshah, where more than 500 people died in a magnitude 7.3 .

earthquake last month and victims have accused the government of being slow to deliver relief.

But what began as economic protests quickly revealed broad anger at a ruling establishment that has failed to rein in corruption while funding costly military adventures abroad, including sponsoring Houthi rebels in Yemen and pro-government forces in Syria.

The protesters have not spared Rouhani, who won reelection this year in large part because of his opposition to the hard-line social restrictions backed by Khamenei and his championing of the 2015 nuclear deal that improved relations with the West.

Until now, most of Iran's pro-reform crowd placed its hopes in Rouhani and the jailed leaders of the Green Movement, which led the mass 2009 protests. The anger against Rouhani and the absence of Green Movement slogans in these demonstrations suggested they were coming from a new and undefined political force.

"As an activist who participated in many post-2009 protests, now I am skeptical about the motives of these protesters and their targets," Milad Waseli, a writer and pro-reform activist, said inside his shop near Engelab Square. "I am surprised. In the past, when we were in a much direr economic situation with even more severe inflation, we did not witness protests like these."

The government sought to discredit the rallies. A news anchor on state-run television aligned the protesters with President Trump, one of the Iranian government's loudest critics, who tweeted support late Friday for the "peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption & its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad."

Trump called on Iran to respect demonstrators' rights, saying, "The world is watching!"

The State Department issued a statement urging countries "to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption."

Hesameddin Ashna, the media manager of Iran's presidential office, tweeted that he sympathized with the protesters' economic demands but warned that the demonstrations could end in violence.

Iran's telecommunications minister, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, appealed to Telegram Chief Executive Pavel Durov, tweeting that one of the social network's channels was "encouraging hateful conduct, use of Molotov cocktails, armed uprising and social unrest." Many Iranians saw the comments as a pretext for the government to block the app, one of the main ways that protesters have organized.

'Death to the dictator!' is new rallying cry in Iran as anti-government protests spread to capital Document

December 29, 2017

Egyptian Coptic Christians

Nine people were killed in twin attacks on Coptic Christians, south of Cairo, the interior ministry says.

Six civilians and a policeman died when a gunman tried to storm a church but was intercepted and arrested by police, it said. 

It said he had also previously attacked a Coptic-owned shop in the same Helwan area, leaving two dead.

The interior ministry revised an earlier account given by the health ministry.

The initial report said 12 were dead and suggested there were two attackers, one of whom had been killed.

More than 100 Christians have been killed in Egypt in the past year - most attacks claimed by the local branch of the so-called Islamic State group.

Security forces have put checkpoints in place around the capital in response to the attacks.

They announced plans earlier this week to protect festivities around the New Year and, on 7 January, Coptic Christmas. They include the deployment of rapid-reaction forces and jamming equipment.

According to the interior ministry statement, the first attack on Friday took place at a household appliances shop. Then the attacker headed to the church, where he attempted "to trespass the church's perimeter security".

"The security forces have dealt with the attacker and managed to arrest him after he was injured," the ministry said.

But it said that seven people, including an auxiliary policeman, had been killed as the gunman opened fire at the church. It said four people were injured.

The attacker also had an explosive device and a machine gun, it said. 

The ministry suggested he was known to security services, saying he was "one of the most active terrorist elements and he carried out several terrorist attacks which resulted in the martyrdom of a number of policemen and civilians". 

String of attacks 

In the wake of Friday's attacks, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi offered condolences to family members and vowed to continue "cleansing the country of terrorism and extremism".

Egypt's Copts have in the past accused authorities of only token gestures to protect them and these incidents will not help calm tensions, our correspondent Radna Gamal says.

Egypt is a Muslim-majority country and its Christian minority - mostly members of the Coptic Orthodox Church - make up around 10% of the population. 

Last April at least 45 people died in twin attacks on Coptic churches in Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta. At least 29 Copts were killed on a bus en route to a monastery in central Egypt in May and a Coptic Orthodox priest was stabbed to death in Cairo in October.

The attacks have been blamed on, and in many cases claimed by, Islamists affiliated with so-called Islamic State (IS).

Egypt attack: Gunman targets Coptic Christians in church and shop Document

December 27, 2017

Activist Wu Gan

A prominent activist who calls himself the "Ultra Vulgar Butcher" for mocking and pressuring Chinese officials was given an eight-year prison sentence on charges of subversion, the harshest punishment in a sweeping crackdown on rights campaigners.

The Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court on Tuesday handed down the sentence after finding activist Wu Gan guilty of subverting state power. Wu will appeal the sentence, his lawyer Ge Yongxi told The Associated Press.

Wu had become known among rights advocates and lawyers for his attention-grabbing campaigns. In one, he posed for online portraits brandishing knives that he said he would use to "slaughter the pigs" among local officials who had done wrong.

In court on Tuesday, Wu struck an irreverent note in his remarks following the sentence, saying he was "grateful to the party for granting me this lofty honor," according to Ge, who was in court.

"I will remain true to our original aspiration, roll up my sleeves and make an extra effort," Wu said, playing on well-known phrases Chinese President Xi Jinping often uses to exhort Communist Party officials to improve their work.

Wu was among the first activists and lawyers caught up in an intense crackdown by authorities that began in 2015. His secretive one-day trial was held in August after a detention of more than two years.

Activists like Wu focused on individual cases instead of challenging Communist Party policy at the national level, making them a greater headache for local officials than for Beijing. But their ability to organize people apparently made authorities nervous.

"With extraordinary courage and disdainful words, Wu Gan set the tone for this so-called 'trial' against him," said his friend and fellow activist Wu Yuren. "It will inspire more and more people to stomp on this government that seems powerful yet doesn't have the authority of the people."

The court said Tuesday in an online statement that Wu Gan had made many remarks online that "attacked state power."

It accused him of hyping cases that "discredited state organs" by organizing illegal public gatherings, causing trouble, and making abusive comments online about others. It said such actions were part of a series of criminal activities seeking to "overthrow state power and the socialist system."

Wu had also worked as an administrative assistant at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, which had worked on sensitive cases and became the focus of the crackdown that began in July 2015. Hundreds of lawyers, activists and others were detained in a coordinated nationwide sweep that sent a chill through China's activist community. Many were later released.

Vaguely defined subversion charges are frequently leveled against human rights activists and perceived political foes of the ruling Communist Party.

Wu was detained in May 2015, after travelling to the southeastern city of Nanchang to put pressure on a judge. Defense lawyers had been denied access to files in a case in which four men were serving prison time for a double murder despite a later confession from a fifth man. Wu had said on social media that he planned to hold a mock funeral for the judge and was arrested after unfurling a banner that insulted him.

In a separate case Tuesday, a court in central China convicted the lawyer Xie Yang for inciting subversion of state power but exempted him from criminal penalties after he admitted to the charges.

The German Embassy said in a statement it was disappointed with Wu's harsh sentence and Xie's conviction. "In both cases there have been serious concerns about violations of due process of law including restrictions on the access to independent legal counsel," it said.

The crackdown has drawn international scrutiny, with many Western governments criticizing it.

Xie had been detained for two years before he was released on bail in May after he admitted to the charges. Even after his release, his wife said, Xie was followed by security agents everywhere he went.

Four months prior to his release, Xie's family had released a jailhouse statement from him saying he had been tortured in custody with repeated beatings, starvation and dehydration. It said that if he publicly confessed at any point in the future, it would be because he broke down under enormous government pressure and coercion.

In May, Xie pleaded guilty at his trial to inciting subversion and read from a prepared statement denouncing his past activism. He also recanted the allegation of torture, which had gained international attention.

Xie said he accepted the verdict and would not appeal, according to a video of part of the hearing posted on the Changsha City Intermediate People's Court's official site.

Amnesty International's China Researcher Patrick Poon said it was "disgraceful" that the Chinese authorities chose to deal with Wu and Xie's cases the day after Christmas - when diplomats, journalists and the public are less likely to respond.

"By trying to avoid scrutiny from the press and the international community, the Chinese government betrays the fact it knows well these sham trials cannot withstand scrutiny," Poon said.

China hands down harsh sentence to rights activist Document

December 26, 2017

The United Nations Headquarters

How to Defund the U.N. Article

December 25, 2017

UNESCO Headquarters

Bye UNESCO Article

A Palestinian protester during clashes with Israeli security forces north of Ramallah, December 22, 2017

Israel Foiled 400 Major Terror Attacks in 2017, Shin Bet Chief Says Document