pro-democracy protests in China
A group of pro-democracy activists, holding portraits Chinese dissidents, protest outside Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong December 27. The group of about 30 Hong Kong marchers presented the news agency with a petition demanding the release of mainland dissidents - Wang Youcai, Qin Yongmin and Xu Wenli.LC/TAN/WS

Human rights groups on Thursday urged Chinese authorities to release a veteran activist, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for subversion of state power and also asked the UN to intervene.

"Qin Yongmin's only 'crime' was to organise a human rights monitoring group to peacefully push for reform in China," said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

On Wednesday, the Wuhan City Intermediate People's Court in Hubei province found the 64-year-old activist guilty of "subversion of state power", a charge frequently levelled against Chinese dissidents, and he was handed 13 years in prison.

HRW called on the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release Qin, because the accusation was "unfair" and the sentence "appallingly harsh", which demonstrates the Chinese government's contempt for fundamental rights.

Qin was one of the founders of the Chinese Democratic Party, banned by the communist regime soon after it was created, and throughout his struggle in the defence of human rights, he has spent a total of 22 years in prison or experienced partial deprivation of his right to freedom.

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders organization (CHRD) also criticised the sentence calling it unfair and arbitrary, and appealed to UN experts to take measures to urge the communist regime to release him. "The Chinese government has once again desecrated international human rights standards, which China has obligations to uphold as a member of the UN Human Rights Council," the CHRD said in a statement.

During the trial, the authorities denied him basic rights, including the right to a lawyer without "political interference", according to the organization, which also reported Wednesday that his family was denied access to the courtroom when the sentence was pronounced and the police arrested several of his followers.

"In punishing Qin Yongmin so severely, the Xi Jinping government is sending more signals that it is determined to crush human rights advocacy NGOs and civil society in the country," read the CHRD statement.

Qin is considered one of the most veteran activists in the country as he participated in pro-democracy movements in his city Wuhan in 1979 and edited and published "The Bell" journal to promote democracy.