A Beijing court jailed a woman activist for nine months yesterday for staging a protest to support fellow activists - a punishment seen as a warning to other social justice campaigners.
The Wenyuhe court, on the outskirts of Beijing, convicted Wang Lihong, 56, in a 10-minute session on what supporters called the trumped up charge of 'provoking quarrels and creating disturbance'.
Wang posted messages online calling on supporters of three internet activists to protest outside a courthouse in Fujian during their trial in April last year. She was among dozens of people who waved banners and sang songs outside the court in solidarity with the bloggers jailed for posting the petition of an alleged rape victim's mother online.
Wang's lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, insisted yesterday that his client was innocent, saying she staged only peaceful protests which did not constitute 'disturbance'. 'She did not clash with police or security guards, nor did she tell others to do so ... as her lawyer I believe she has committed no crime,' said Liu, noting that she had not been arrested and prosecuted by local police in Fujian but was prosecuted by Beijing police months later.
Wang's sentence was relatively light compared with other activists jailed on the same charge, which has a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Her case drew international attention after human rights groups called for her release and foreign governments expressed concern.
Activist Zhao Lianhai - who helped parents whose children fell ill after drinking formula milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine - was convicted of the same crime in November and sentenced to 21/2 years' jail. He was released on medical parole more than a year later after a huge public outcry.
But Wang's son, who attended the sentencing, said the verdict was unacceptable. 'My mother is innocent, they shouldn't have sentenced her even to one day in prison,' Qi Jianxiang said by phone. 'The protests she and others staged were peaceful and rational.'
His mother was calm upon being sentenced and told the judges she was innocent and wanted to appeal, Qi said. The authorities were making an example of Wang as a warning to others who want to use the internet to organise rights activities, he said. 'This is creating fear,' Qi said.
Around two dozen supporters, many of them petitioners helped by Wang in the past, and diplomats from the US and several European embassies turned up outside the courthouse yesterday, her son said. They were outnumbered by scores of uniformed and plain-clothes police.
Many activists such as Zhao, documentary maker He Yang and dissident Zha Jianguo were stopped from going to the court, said Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Others who tried to travel to Beijing were barred from leaving their hometowns by local police, it said. Zhao's phone rang unanswered yesterday.
Wang was detained on March 21 amid a crackdown on dissent after online calls for a 'jasmine revolution' emulating events in the Arab world. She was arrested on April 21.