BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court sentenced a leading Chinese dissident to 10 years in prison for urging democratic reform of the one-party state, an unusually harsh sentence that rights campaigners say could bode ill for other detained activists.
The Suining Intermediate People’s Court in the southwestern province of Sichuan ruled Friday that Liu Xianbin was guilty of “inciting subversion of state power,” Liu’s wife, Chen Mingxian, told Reuters by telephone.
Liu Xianbin’s sentence is the second-longest term ever handed down for inciting subversion after Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving since 2009 an 11-year sentence for co-writing the Charter 08 manifesto that called for sweeping political reforms, rights groups said.
The verdict and lengthy sentence shows that the Chinese Communist Party will not relent in its ongoing crackdown against dissent, risking strains over human rights with Washington and other Western capitals.
The 43-year-old activist had spent more than eight months in detention before his trial, which lasted just over two hours, Chen said.
“At the end, Liu Xianbin wanted to make his closing statement, but the judge did not give him the opportunity to be heard,” Chen said, adding that Liu’s statement of self-defense was taken away by court officials.
“The only words he told the court were: ‘I have no guilt. I protest.’”
The trial comes as China has launched a crackdown against dissidents, many of whom have disappeared or been charged with subversion — a charge that authorities commonly level against people critical of the ruling Communist Party.
Liu Xianbin, a long-time rights activist, was a participant in the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, after which he was jailed in 1991 and then sentenced to another two-and-a-half years in 1992.
He was detained by authorities last June for writing four or five articles in 2009 that called for a non-violent struggle for democratic reform and recounted his time in prison.
One of the articles also praised Tan Zuoren, an activist serving five years in jail for subversion after documenting shoddy construction that contributed to deaths in China’s devastating 2008 earthquake.
Some rights lawyers were surprised by the verdict.
“It’s an unusually harsh sentence that does not bode well for those who are still awaiting trial,” said Mo Shaoping, a rights lawyer and family friend.
“Since Liu Xiaobo was given 11 years in jail, the trend has been for the authorities to come down much harder on these sorts of cases. It’s been politicised.”
The sentence was also another strong warning to the Chinese bloggers who have been charged with subversion after the online calls for “Jasmine” pro-democracy gatherings, said Wang Songlian, research coordinator for rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
She estimated there are nine detained so far on charges of subversion - which is considered a graver crime - and of inciting subversion.
“The Chinese government is sending a signal to the activists to warn them against rights activities,” Wang said.
Chinese officials were not available for comment.
Chen, who has not seen Liu Xianbin since he was detained last June, said her husband called out to her to “take care” as he was taken away by court officials after the trial.
“Today I saw how a country that is ruled by law...sentenced someone who has committed no offence,” Chen said.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani