A court has sentenced a democracy activist in central China to 10 years' imprisonment for subversion, a family member said Thursday. It's the third lengthy jail term handed down to a dissident in less than a month.
Li Tie was sentenced by a court in Wuhan city to 10 years in jail on Wednesday after being convicted of subversion based on articles that he had written, said the relative, who did not want to be named due to fear of official retaliation.
Li said in court he is innocent because the Chinese constitution protects citizens' freedom of expression, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders group said in a statement. The group said Li was arrested in September 2010 and his trial was held in April.
Wang Songlian, a researcher with the group, said Li's case is similar to those of Chen Wei and Chen Xi, rights activists who were separately sentenced late last month to nine and 10 years in prison, respectively, for posting essays on the Internet that the government deemed subversive.
"They are all activists with a long track record of promoting democracy in China, who have refused to bend despite severe persecution," Wang said. "Their sentences are the Chinese government's response to the Arab Spring: Freedom and democracy are dirty words, and anyone advocating for them will be punished harshly."
Communist leaders launched a sweeping effort to crush dissent early last year in response to anonymous online calls urging Chinese to imitate protests that toppled governments in North Africa and the Middle East.
In Wednesday's case, the Wuhan Intermediate Court refused to allow Li to be represented by an attorney of his choice and instead appointed a lawyer to defend him, the relative said.
"From the beginning to the end, it has been all nonsense," said the family member. "The question of subverting state power does not exist."
Li will appeal the sentence if the family is able to hire a lawyer, the relative said.
A man at the Wuhan court office who answered the phone hung up as soon as he heard the caller was from The Associated Press. Subsequent calls rang unanswered.
According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, prosecutors said that because Li wrote articles critical of the government and participated in discussions on "reactionary" websites, it should be presumed that he would engage in anti-government actions.