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25 Dec 2009 06:48
A Beijing court on Friday sentenced leading dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for subversion, prompting the United States to accuse China of persecuting its political opponents.
The 53-year-old Liu, a writer who was jailed over the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, was tried on Wednesday for “inciting subversion of state power” after co-authoring a bold call for political reform last year.
He co-wrote Charter 08, which calls for human rights protection and the reform of China’s one-party communist system. It has been signed by more than 10 000 people, according to China Human Rights Defenders, an activist network.
One of his lawyers, Ding Xikui, said he was unsure whether Liu—who has already been detained for a year—would appeal.
He had faced a maximum prison term of 15 years.
The case has generated concern in the West over China’s human rights record, especially in the United States, which urged Beijing to “respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views”.
“We continue to call on the government of China to release him immediately,” US embassy official Gregory May told reporters outside the courthouse following sentencing.
“Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognised norms of human rights,” May said.
“Mr Liu has peacefully worked for the establishment of democratic processes in China.”
The European Union has also previously called for Liu to be freed without condition.
Police presence at the courthouse was stepped up Friday, with only the press pack milling around outside the building.
A group of Western diplomats including May, who were denied access to Wednesday’s proceedings, tried to attend Friday’s hearing but were again refused, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter at the courthouse.
The dissident’s wife Liu Xia told AFP on Friday that she was being taken to the courthouse, but she was not seen entering. She was not allowed to attend Wednesday’s trial.
In a brief dispatch, the official Xinhua news agency reported the sentence, saying the court had “strictly followed the legal procedures in this case and fully protected Liu’s litigation rights”.
On Thursday, Beijing slammed the foreign diplomats who tried to attend Liu’s trial and the governments who have made statements on Liu’s behalf for what it said was their “gross interference” in China’s affairs.
“We urge relevant countries to respect China’s judicial sovereignty and to stop doing anything that interferes in China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters.
Mo Shaoping, the head of the firm defending Liu, said the writer’s case was significant, as he had campaigned for greater human rights and democracy in China for decades.
“He has worked to try to find a way to allow the ordinary citizen to criticise the government or to make proposals to the government, on how the people can participate in government,” Mo said on Wednesday.
“We pleaded not guilty—his crime is a crime of speech.”
The subversion charge—which another of Liu’s lawyers Shang Baojun said also related to articles posted on the Internet—is routinely brought against those who voice opposition to China’s ruling Communist Party.
Rights activists say China pushes such cases through the courts during the Western holiday season in a bid to attract less global attention.
In 2007, rights activist Hu Jia was arrested on December 27 and charged with subversion. The year before, prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was sentenced to three years in prison for subversion just before Christmas.
“This trial, condemned by human rights activists worldwide, along with the European Union and the United States, is an affront to the rule of law in China,” Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières said in a statement. - AFP
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