A court in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou has handed a 10-year jail term to a prominent human rights activist for subversion, amid growing concern over a string of lengthy sentences meted out to rights activists in recent days.
Chen Xi was found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power" and sentenced to a decade of imprisonment and three years' deprivation of political rights by the Guizhou Intermediate People's Court, according to an official statement on Monday.
His wife, who gave only her surname Zhang, said the sentence was unjust.
"The judgement was unjust and preposterous," she said. "The lawyer asked them in court why they were only now asking him about things that happened in 2005...why they were only now pursuing these articles he wrote and which they knew about."
"They couldn't answer that," said Zhang, adding that her husband appeared calm as the sentence was read out, and merely repeated his assertion that he was not guilty.
"He said: 'I am a law-abiding citizen and I respect your judgement, but I am innocent. I will not appeal,'" Zhang said.
Zhang said dozens of Guizhou activists were currently being held under house arrest.
"All of us are under house arrest right now," she said.
According to Chen's lawyer Sun Guangquan, the prosecution relied on 36 articles penned by Chen and published online since 2005 as evidence, but Sun's attempt to argue in his defense was repeatedly cut short by officials, as was Chen's own attempt to make a statement.
"No sooner had we submitted our case for the defense, than the judgement came back," Sun said. "[Chen] said in court that he had no plans to appeal—that is his personal decision."
"We have done everything we can...I made my argument in court, and now all we can do is to feel regret."
Chen, 57, was detained together with around 10 other fellow members of the controversial Guizhou Human Rights Forum at the end of last month.
Police searched Chen's family home on Oct. 19, after he and fellow rights activist Li Renke decided they would attempt to seek nomination in forthcoming elections to district-level legislative bodies.
Chen was stopped after leaving his community electoral center with a memory stick containing some information from the center's computers.
Officials and police who searched his home at the time said he was suspected of having taken "secret" material from the center's computer systems. Chen's computer and memory stick were also confiscated by police during the raid.
However, Sun said the case against Chen in court had hinged entirely on his online writings, which included essays on advancing political reform and improving human rights in China.
The Guizhou Human Rights Forum has now been banned by the authorities, according to notices issued by local government in early December.
The Forum has been the target of official harassment since it was set up on World Human Rights Day 2005, with members subjected to police surveillance, detention, and house arrest whenever it tries to meet.
Guizhou-based activist Zeng Ning said Chen was highly valued as a member of the Forum, and had always been a pillar of the community.
"He has a sort of spirit that takes people by surprise and a huge amount of moral courage," Zeng said.
"He is also a very committed Christian and he takes life very seriously," he said. "He was once a soldier, and during that time he was a model member of the Communist Party."
"Later, he decided to pursue democracy."
Zeng said he was himself currently under police surveillance at his Guizhou home. "The police downstairs are stopping me from leaving my apartment complex, so I wasn't able to go to the court for the trial."
"It started on around Nov. 28...I can't go anywhere."
Beijing-based political activist Zha Jianguo said he was angry at Chen's sentence. "I protest," Zha said. "But I'm not sad, because this is a sacrifice that we have to make."
He said Chinese activists were experiencing a "long, dark stormy night" since a wave of crackdowns began in the wake of uprisings in the Middle East. "They are stepping up their oppression of pro-democracy activists," Zha said.
Chen's sentence comes just days after the jailing of Sichuan-based dissident Chen Wei and after a Beijing court withdrew a five-year probation handed out to human-rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, requiring him to begin serving a three-year jail term.
United Nations human rights experts have criticized the moves, in particular the treatment of Gao, which they said was illustrative of a trend of secret detention and disappearances of human rights defenders.
Chen served his first jail term of three years in the wake of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, and another sentence of 10 years for trying to set up the Guizhou branch of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) in 1998.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.