Friday, December 25, 2009

133) Leading China Dissident Gets 11-Year Term for Subversion

Leading China Dissident Gets 11-Year Term for Subversion
The New York Times, December 25, 2009

BEIJING — In an unequivocal rebuke to those pursuing political reforms, a Chinese court on Friday sentenced one of the country’s best-known dissidents to 11 years in prison for subversion.

Liu Xiaobo, 53, a former literature professor and a dogged critic of China’s single-party political system, was detained in December 2008 after he helped draft a petition known as Charter 08 that demanded the right to free speech, open elections and the rule of law.

The 11-page verdict, largely a restatement of his indictment, was read out Friday morning at the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court, said Mr. Liu’s lawyer, Shang Baojun. In addition to his prison term, Mr. Liu will be deprived of his political rights for an additional two years, a penalty that will prevent him from writing or speaking out on a wide range of issues.

“We are just extremely disappointed,” said Mr. Shang, who added that Mr. Liu intended to appeal the verdict.

Gregory May, first secretary with the U.S. Embassy who stood outside the courthouse Friday morning, called on the authorities to immediately release Mr. Liu.

“Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognized norms of human rights,” he said.

Although Mr. Liu had faced a 15-year sentence, legal experts and human rights advocates said the punishment was very harsh and was meant to send a message to others who might agitate for political reform in one of the world’s longest-running authoritarian governments.

Nicholas Bequelin, a senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, described Mr. Liu as “a sacrificial lamb” and said that the Communist Party leadership was trying to intimidate its critics. The rights group called the trial “a travesty of justice.”

Mr. Bequelin and others said Mr. Liu’s prosecution for violating rights enshrined in China’s Constitution suggested a political hardening, a trend that began before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“It shows that the leadership is increasingly conservative and restrictive of basic freedoms,” Mr. Bequelin said, “and it also sends a strong message to the rest of the world that China is not really serious when it talks about human rights.”

Joshua Rosenzweig, a senior researcher at the Dui Hua Foundation, which advocates on behalf of Chinese political prisoners, said Mr. Liu’s sentence was the longest for subversion charges in more than a decade.

In 2005, Shi Tao, a journalist and poet, was convicted of leaking state secrets and given a 10-year term after he sent an internal party memo to an overseas Web site. Last year, Hu Jia, an AIDS activist and environmentalist, was imprisoned for three and a half years on charges that his Internet writings incited subversion.

Mr. Liu has been held in secret for more than a year and his lawyers were given less than two weeks to prepare their defense. The trial on Wednesday lasted two hours and was closed; his wife, Liu Xia, and more than two dozen diplomats from the United States, Canada and the European Union were barred from the courtroom.

On Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman angrily dismissed foreign criticisms of Mr. Liu’s prosecution, calling them a “gross interference of China’s internal affairs.”

This is not Mr. Liu’s first brush with China’s harsh judicial system. He spent 21 months in detention for taking part in the 1989 pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square. And in 1996, after demanding clemency for those still imprisoned for their roles in the demonstrations, he was sent to a labor camp for three years.

In addition to helping create Charter 08, Mr. Liu’s charge for “inciting subversion of state power” was based on six articles he wrote that were published on the Internet outside of China.

Released on Dec. 10, 2008, International Human Rights Day, Charter 08 garnered some 10,000 signatures before it was removed from the Web by government censors. To this day, it is virtually unknown in China.

During the brief trial on Wednesday, Mr. Liu’s lawyers rejected the prosecution’s contention that the document sought to overthrow the Communist Party. Zhang Zuhua, a former party official and political scholar who co-authored the manifesto with Mr. Liu, described the subversion charge as “absurd,” calling it “a violation of the Chinese Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.” Mr. Zhang was briefly detained last year and has since been under 24-hour surveillance by security personnel.

The state-controlled media has not covered Mr. Liu’s trial — nor has it allowed any mention of Charter 08 — but Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, published a brief item Friday that described the sentence and said the court “had strictly followed the legal procedures in this case and fully protected Liu’s litigation rights.”

News of his sentencing quickly spread via Twitter, which is blocked in China but can be accessed by those able to circumvent the so-called Great Firewall. Many of those who sent messages displayed the image of a yellow ribbon as a declaration of their sympathies. Others defiantly listed personal details about the presiding judge in the case.

At least two dozen supporters who stood outside the courthouse during Mr. Liu’s trial on Wednesday were later questioned and released.

Liu Di, a signer of Charter 08, was among a handful of people who publicly declared their desire to stand trial with Liu Xiaobo.

“For the dignity of the Constitution and the law, and for no more imprisonment of people for their independent opinions, I would prefer to share with Mr. Liu Xiaobo the same case with the same penalty,” wrote Ms. Liu, a blogger better known by her online identity, the Stainless Steel Mouse.

On Friday, officials allowed the defendant and his wife to meet for 10 minutes in a small room, although they were divided by a glass barrier. It was the third time they had seen each other since his detention last year.

“People always say they’re so inhumane,” she said of the government afterward, “so I think they just wanted to show a little humanity.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting.

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