A Chinese legal aid advocate who has pushed for freer elections was sentenced Wednesday to four months in jail for credit card fraud, but rights groups say the charges were an excuse to punish him for his work.
Li Shuangde was arrested in March amid a nationwide roundup of bloggers, lawyers and activists aimed at derailing potential democratic uprisings like those sweeping through the Arab world. The Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Defenders says he is the first to be brought to trial.
At a brief trial, a court in the central city of Chengdu found Li guilty and sentenced him to four months in jail and a fine of 20,000 yuan ($3,000), said Li's former lawyer Ran Tong and family friend Xing Qingxian.
China has been known to investigate activists and political opponents for alleged economic crimes, including artist Ai Weiwei, the most internationally recognizable figure taken into custody during the current crackdown.
Li was detained on March 24 on allegations that he failed to pay off his credit card. Though his friends and relatives cleared the debt on April 2, he was still charged with credit card fraud, the rights group said.
Ran said it's unusual for suspects in similar credit card cases to be detained or receive jail terms.
"Li acknowledged that he did make overdrafts, but he doesn't think he committed a crime," Xing said.
Neither Li's current lawyer nor the trial court would comment.
China Human Rights Defenders said Li has worked for years to help vulnerable groups protect their rights and has also promoted freer local elections.