Business fraud on the mainland is nothing unusual. As long as the accused is given a fair trial and sentenced according to the severity of the offence, it need not be a cause for concern. But what sets the case of Liu Hui apart is that he is the brother-in-law of Nobel Peace Prize winner-cum-dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu Hui was sentenced to 11 years in prison for pocketing three million yuan in a property transaction. The imprisonment, which matches the dissident's 11 years for authoring a charter calling for democracy a few years ago, is said to be unusually harsh for commercial disputes even by mainland standards. The ruling reflects poorly on a rising global power whose new leaders have repeatedly renewed commitment in rule of law.
Liu Xia , the dissident's wife who has been under house arrest for nearly two years, rightly questioned the way in which her brother had been handled. According to his lawyer, the case was dropped after an initial investigation last autumn. But the police revived the charge early this year after his sister twice spoke to the media and activists. Not only was he sentenced following a brief trial behind closed doors in a Beijing suburban court, the jail term is said to have exceeded the maximum 10 years for fraud cases on the mainland. That the same jail term has been imposed on fraud and "instigating subversion" - the charge against the Nobel laureate - is just baffling.
This is not the first time relatives of Chinese dissidents have complained about unreasonable treatment. The jail term of three years and three months imposed on the nephew of blind activist Chen Guangcheng for causing intentional injury to officials last December was a case in point. The latest court ruling adds to the impression that the dissident's relatives have been targeted for their connections rather than any crime committed. It does not instil confidence in the new leaders' pledge to promote the authority of the constitution and rule of law. A lot has to be done to improve transparency and fairness which are still lacking in the mainland's judicial system.