A mainland political activist who had already spent nearly a decade in prison was jailed for another 10 years yesterday for writing articles urging democratic reform, an unusually harsh sentence that rights groups say shows the authorities are intent on silencing their critics.
Liu Xianbin, who was convicted of 'inciting subversion of state power' by the Suining Intermediate People's Court in Sichuan, was also deprived of his political rights for two years and four months, his wife Chen Mingxian said, meaning he will be prohibited from voting, accepting interviews, making speeches or publishing when he is released.
The court accused Liu of slandering the government and 'inciting the overthrow of the Communist Party's rule', Chen said, insisting her husband was innocent.
'I find it hard to accept this, but I have no choice,' Chen said. 'We can see the reality of China's legal environment through this sentencing.'
Liu, 42, a founding member of the China Democracy Party, was convicted of subversion of state power in 1999 and was released from jail in November 2008. Nineteen months later he was re-arrested on the charge of 'inciting subversion' over his online essays, including one that said street protests were an inevitable stage of democratisation.
'Street protests are key to democratic movements, it is an inevitable stage of a society's democratisation,' he wrote in February last year.
Liu's sentence came as the authorities escalate their crackdown on activists across the country.
After a spate of anonymous online calls urging Chinese people to stage their own 'jasmine revolution' during the past month, a dozen human rights lawyers and activists vanished and are believed to be held in police custody. Another 23 activists were detained on criminal charges - half of them state security charges - the rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said.
A student in 1989, Liu participated in the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. After his 2008 release he remained politically active and wrote articles in support of imprisoned fellow activists such as Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace prize last year, and Tan Zuoren, who was jailed for five years last year for probing the deaths of thousands of children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Liu Xianbin also blamed corrupt officials for the children's deaths.
Wang Songlian, a researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said: 'Liu's heavy sentence definitely sends out a stern warning to all dissidents and activists.'
Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: 'The sentence illustrates that China's laws on incitement to subvert state power and to overthrow the socialist system effectively prohibit any criticism of the Communist Party.'