China activist jailed for 10 years amid crackdown

(AFP)  March 25, 2011 

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BEIJING X A prominent Chinese democracy activist was sentenced Friday to 10 years in jail for subversion, his wife said, amid a severe crackdown on dissidents in the wake of the Arab "Jasmine" protests.

A court in the southwestern province of Sichuan jailed Liu Xianbin, 43, for "inciting subversion of state power" after he published pro-democracy articles online, his wife Chen Mingxian told AFP. He was detained last June.

Liu Xianbin
A human rights group protests asking for the release of Liu Xianbin

"The public prosecution authorities believe that these articles slander and vilify the Chinese Communist Party and incite people to overthrow party leaders," Chen said.

Beijing has launched a tough crackdown following the recent "Jasmine" revolts in the Middle East and North Africa, which many political analysts have said indicated official fears the unrest could spread to China.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was extremely concerned that the sentence was a sign of an escalating clampdown rather than reform by Chinese authorities.

Authorities have been particularly on edge since the emergence of mysterious online calls, inspired by the Arab unrest, for people to gather in cities around China for subtle "strolling" demonstrations each Sunday.

The campaign has prompted tight security at designated protest sites and no obvious protest actions have been seen.

China faces rising public dissatisfaction over inflation, corruption and growing income disparities -- similar to the mix of problems contributing to the Arab unrest.

Chen called her husband's 10-year sentence -- handed down in the city of Suining -- severe, but added she was unsure whether that was because of the recent protest calls.

"The situation is currently very tense. Friends have been summoned to court and detained," she said.

UN human rights chief Pillay said: "The extremely harsh sentencing of Liu Xianbin confirms the severe limits being imposed on freedom of expression in China, and is another example of the escalating clampdown on the activities of human rights defenders.

"It runs counter to recent statements by China's leadership recognizing the need for reform," she added in a statement released by her office in Geneva.

"Dissent is not a crime and I urge the Chinese authorities to release any person detained for peacefully exercising his or her right to freedom of expression."

Amnesty International, the rights group, condemned the conviction.

"Liu Xianbin is not guilty of any crime. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately," said Catherine Baber, its deputy director for the Asia-Pacific.

"Ten years imprisonment for writing articles is an appalling sentence, and a travesty of justice. The Chinese authorities are shooting the messenger rather than heeding the message, when even Premier Wen Jiabao has acknowledged the need for political reform," she said.

Liu has previously spent more than a decade in prison for his activism.

He served two-and-a-half years in jail for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, rights groups say.

He was arrested again in the late 1990s over his activities as a founding member of the China Democracy Party, and sentenced to 13 years in prison for subversion, but was released in 2008, ahead of time.

Following his release, he became an active member of Sichuan's dissident community, publishing articles on democracy and human rights and voicing support for other jailed Chinese dissidents.

"He was in jail twice but still he didn't repent," Chen said, adding that this may have contributed to his latest hefty sentence.

AFP calls to the Suining court where Liu was sentenced went unanswered