A former Tiananmen student leader was jailed for nine years yesterday by a Sichuan court for inciting subversion, in what rights groups say is the harshest punishment yet handed down in a sweeping crackdown on dissent this year.
Chen Wei, 42, an activist and student leader in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, was convicted by Suining Intermediate People's Court of 'inciting subversion of state power' after a two-hour hearing, said his lawyer Zheng Jianwei.
'The constitution states that citizens have the right to criticise government organisations ... Chen Wei was just expressing his thoughts through his essays,' Zheng said.
Prosecutors said that between March 2009 and January this year, Chen published 'inflammatory articles' critical of the government on overseas websites, including one entitled 'The growth of opposition is the key to China's democratisation'.
Chen told the court yesterday his criticism of the Communist Party should not be regarded as criminal. But Zheng said Chen's defence was rejected by the court, which said his crime was 'particularly serious' and found him guilty.
Chen shouted, 'I'm innocent' three times and, 'Constitutional democracy will triumph, autocracy will fall' as he was led away, his wife, Wang Xiaoyan, said.
'I'm very angry - he was only trying to express his view but he wasn't even allowed to criticise the authorities,' she said.
She said the authorities were using a crackdown on online calls for a so-called jasmine revolution as an excuse to round up people like her husband, who were seen as a thorn in the government's side. His role as a student leader in the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement had made him a target.
Chen was imprisoned in the aftermath of Tiananmen and released the following year. In 1992, he was jailed for another five years for commemorating the crackdown and organising a political party.
The prosecution's indictment of Chen, posted on the internet, said he had been previously jailed but that he remained unrepentant and should be heavily punished.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders said the sentence was the harshest handed down so far to an activist detained in a crackdown on dissent which began in mid-February. Chen was detained on February 20. Fifty-two activists have been held since that month, according to the group.