BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court sentenced a disabled lawyer renowned for defending people evicted from their homes to two years and eight months in prison on Tuesday for causing a disturbance and fraud, Beijing's latest use of a controversial law to stifle dissent.
The lawyer, Ni Yulan, and her husband, Dong Jiqin, were detained in April 2011 and later convicted of the charges. Rights activists contend the charges were trumped up in an effort to silence the couple.
Dong was given two years in prison, also for "causing a disturbance", a court official told reporters at the courthouse in a western suburb of Beijing.
Ni's imprisonment is the latest signal of the ruling Communist Party's determination to stifle China's civil rights movement, which is reeling from the jailing of several dissidents in recent months.
The party is especially wary of political challenges ahead of a leadership succession later this year.
Ni has been an outspoken advocate for Chinese residents forced from their homes to make way for development, often for what residents say is grossly inadequate compensation.
Prosecutors alleged that Ni, who is disabled and wheel chair-bound, and Dong beat employees at a hotel - or what Ni has previously called a "black jail" - where they were forced to stay after their home was demolished in 2008.
A "black jail" is an informal detention site, such as a hotel or government guesthouse, used to hold protesters and petitioners without resorting to legal procedures.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Chris Buckley)