A court sentenced the brother-in-law of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, to 11 years in prison yesterday - an unusually harsh punishment for a business dispute that the activist's wife immediately decried as a warning to the whole family.
The court in suburban Beijing issued the sentence in a brief hearing after finding Liu Hui guilty of fraud in a real estate dispute, said lawyer Shang Baojun.
"This is damaging to my whole family," said Liu's sister and the wife of the imprisoned Nobel laureate, Liu Xia , who was allowed to leave the Beijing apartment where she has been confined to attend the hearing. Weeping, she criticised the authorities for being unscrupulous in persecuting the family.
"How can they give an 11-year sentence? I do not know. That does not stand. Perhaps this country has gone mad, or do they hate us so much?" she said.
Family members and their supporters have said the prosecution of Liu Hui is meant as further punishment of the Nobel laureate's family and is intended to intimidate other political activists. The 11-year sentence for a business dispute is harsh even by mainland standards and matches the 11 years Liu Xiaobo is currently serving for authoring a programmatic call for democracy. Fraud is usually punishable by up to 10 years in jail, although judges -who answer to the ruling Communist Party - have discretion to issue longer terms for cases.
The prosecution of Liu Hui is the latest measure against the family. Liu Xiaobo was arrested in 2008 and soon after he was awarded the Nobel in 2010 for his campaigning for peaceful democratic change. His wife, Liu Xia, a poet and activist, was placed under house arrest.
In the two-and-a-half years since, she has rarely been allowed out in public, being restricted to an apartment without phone or Internet connections to prevent her from becoming a rallying point for other activists. Liu said she has seen no improvements in China's human rights situation under the new leadership of Xi Jinping , who took over as party leader last autumn.
"Judging from what has happened to my family and the type of life I have lived in the past two years, I cannot say I have seen any improvements, I cannot see any hope," she said.
The arrest of her brother, Liu Hui, in February was seen as retaliation against Liu Xia after she twice spoke out - once to reporters for the Associated Press and once to other activists who managed to sneak past security and visit her apartment.
Lawyers for the brother said he and another business partner were accused of pocketing 3 million yuan (HK$3.8 million) that was claimed by another party to the transaction. According to the lawyers, the money has since been returned, and police - after first investigating the case last autumn - dropped it, but then revived the charges early this year. Speaking after the hearing yesterday, Liu Xia, said her brother had lost a lot of weight in detention.