Li Bifeng's 12-year jail term 'revenge' for helping dissident Liao Yiwu flee
Friend denies Li Bifeng funded his escape as writer gets 12 years on contract fraud charges
A Sichuan court jailed writer Li Bifeng for 12 years yesterday on fraud charges, his lawyer said.
Li's supporters said the authorities suspected he helped dissident author Liao Yiwu flee the country last year.
The Shehong County People's Court in Suining jailed Li, 48, for "contract fraud", fining him 300,000 yuan (HK$372,000), his lawyer Ma Xiaopeng said.
The court indictment, posted online, said Li, also a businessman, signed a contract to buy 63 properties for 33 million yuan from a company two years ago. He paid 20 million but failed to pay the remainder by the deadline, voiding the contract, it said.
Ma said Li did not pay the remainder because a new property regulation, aimed at suppressing speculation, came into force after the signing of the contract. It said each person could only buy one property and Li decided he could not go ahead with the purchase.
"The court failed to prove any losses suffered by the other side," Ma said, stressing the ownership of the properties was never transferred to Li so the case did not amount to fraud.
The Shehong county court refused to comment yesterday.
Li has been jailed twice before. The first occasion was for five years in 1990, after the Tiananmen crackdown, for counter-revolutionary crimes. Then, in 1998, he was jailed for seven years for economic crimes after investigating strikes by workers in Mianyang , Sichuan, on behalf of the US-based group, Human Rights in China.
Li was arrested in September last year, two months after his friend Liao fled China.
Rights activist Huang Qi said the authorities believed Li helped Liao escape, and added that Li had helped a lot of jailed dissidents' families in the past.
Liao, who now lives in Germany, insisted yesterday that he had never received help from Li, even though they are good friends. "I never thought they would sentence him so heavily on this drummed up excuse," he said. "They are retaliating."
Liao released a statement at the Berlin International Literature Festival in April, appealing for Li's release. "The police suspect that Li Bifeng financed my escape - this is a groundless lie," he said in the statement. "No one knew the reason and motivation for my escape to freedom - not even my own family."
Liao said Li was a fellow prisoner during his time in jail in the early 1990s and praised him as a "very talented intellectual".
Liao said Li had illegally crossed the border into Myanmar to escape prosecution after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown but was turned back by the Myanmese army.
"He was beaten almost to death," Liao wrote.
Liao said he wrote some of Li's tales into his books For a Song and a Hundred Songs and Bullets and Opium.