HUAIROU, China (AP) — A court sentenced the brother-in-law of China's imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison Sunday — an unusually harsh punishment for a business dispute that the activist's wife immediately decried as a vendetta against the whole family.
The court in suburban Beijing found Liu Hui guilty of fraud in a real estate dispute and issued the sentence after a brief hearing that came just hours after new Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with President Barack Obama at an informal summit in California.
Liu Xia, the defendant's sister and the Nobel laureate's wife who is herself under house arrest but who was allowed to attend the trial, said she has seen no improvement in China's human rights situation under Xi despite hopes for political reform under his leadership.
"Judging from what has happened to my family and the type of life I have lived in the past two years, I cannot say I have seen any improvements, I cannot see any hope," she said.
Liu Xia said authorities in China were being unscrupulous in persecuting her family, and wept as she briefly stood and spoke to reporters outside a car that was bringing her home from the hearing.
"How can they give an 11-year sentence? That does not stand. I do not know, perhaps this country has gone mad, or do they hate us so much?" she said. "My brother, my brother."
Family members and their supporters have said the prosecution of Liu Hui is meant as further punishment of the Nobel laureate's family and is intended to intimidate other political activists.
Liu Xiaobo was arrested in 2008 and soon after he was awarded the Nobel in 2010 for his campaigning for peaceful democratic change, his wife, Liu Xia, who is a poet and activist, was placed under house arrest. In the two-and-a-half years since, she has rarely been allowed out in public, kept in an apartment without phone or Internet connections to prevent her from becoming a rallying point for other activists.
The 11-year sentence for a business dispute is harsh even by Chinese standards and matches the 11 years Liu Xiaobo is currently serving for authoring a programmatic call for democracy. Fraud is usually punishable by up to 10 years in jail, though judges — who answer to the ruling Communist Party — have discretion to issue longer terms for egregious cases.
The arrest of her brother, Liu Hui, in February was seen as retaliation against Liu Xia after she twice spoke out — once to reporters for The Associated Press and once to other activists who managed to sneak past security and visit her apartment.
An EU diplomat who attended the proceedings, Raphael Droszewski, said the EU was "concerned that Liu Hui's persecution and conviction might have been linked with the situation of his sister Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo's wife."
"The EU reiterates its call to the Chinese authorities to release Liu Xiaobo," he said, echoing calls from many foreign governments, including the United States, for the release of the Nobel peace laureate.
Lawyers for the brother said he and another business partner were accused of pocketing 3 million yuan ($500,000) that was claimed by another party to the transaction. According to the lawyers, the money has since been returned, and police after first investigating the case last fall dropped it and then revived the charges early this year.
Chinese courts do not usually publicize their argument, and Liu's case, in particular, has not been covered by state media, which usually do not report news about political dissidents
After Sunday's sentencing hearing, Liu Xia, said her brother has lost a lot of weight while in detention.