China sentences democracy activist to 10 years

AP News
Posted: Mar 25, 2011 12:47 PM
China sentences democracy activist to 10 years

A longtime Chinese democracy activist was sentenced Friday to a heavy penalty of 10 years in prison for advocating government change in online articles that authorities say slandered Communist Party leadership as autocratic.

The trial came amid a vast crackdown on activism in China that may reflect government anxiety about unrest inspired by uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Dozens of well-known Chinese lawyers and activists have vanished, been interrogated, held under house arrest or criminally detained for alleged subversion.

Activist Liu Xianbin, who has previously spent a decade in prison, was found guilty of inciting subversion of state power by the Suining Intermediate People's Court in Sichuan province after a trial that lasted a few hours, his wife Chen Mingxian told The Associated Press.

Liu's sentence is among the heaviest handed down for inciting subversion, an offense stipulated in Chinese criminal law as punishable by up to five years, or in serious cases, more than five years.

Chen, who attended the trial, said her husband was calm and composed and looked relatively well, but that the judge frequently interrupted Liu and his lawyer's attempts to present a defense.

Chen said that after the verdict was delivered, Liu shouted, apparently in frustration: "I'm innocent! I protest!"

"The 10-year sentence to me, because we've already been through 10 years ... (is) a repeat of the painful process, one in which I can only watch and wait anxiously," said Chen, who is a schoolteacher. The couple have a 13-year-old daughter.

China's authoritarian government routinely uses the vaguely worded subversion charge to jail activists it considers troublemakers.

An indictment issued by the Suining public security bureau said articles Liu wrote between April 2009 and February last year that were posted on overseas Chinese pro-democracy websites "slandered" the Communist Party's leadership as "autocratic rule," and "on many occasions incited others to subvert the country's state power and socialist system," according Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a China-based rights group.

Liu also allegedly urged Chinese to "create a strong opposition organization" and advocated large street protests, the indictment said.

"Liu's harsh sentence is part of the Chinese government's growing intolerance towards human rights activism, as reflected in the continued and widespread crackdown on activists,'" said the group's research coordinator, Wang Songlian.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, also condemned the sentence.

"It runs counter to recent statements by China's leadership recognizing the need for reform," Pillay said in a statement issued in Geneva. "Dissent is not a crime ... and I urge the Chinese authorities to release any person detained for peacefully exercising his or her right to freedom of expression."

In a sign of Chinese police sensitivity over the case, activists in Sichuan province and elsewhere reported being taken away by police to prevent them from attending Liu's trial, Wang said.

Liu was a founding member of the China Democracy Party and was convicted in 1999 of subversion of state power and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was released in November 2008 and continued to be involved in high-profile human rights activities, his wife said.

He was a signatory to the Charter 08 manifesto, which called for an end to single-party rule and advocated democratic political reforms. Chinese authorities have harassed supporters of Charter 08, and co-author Liu Xiaobo was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison for incitement to subvert state power.

Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his democracy activism, an honor that China furiously condemned. Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xianbin are not related.


Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Geneva.