Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan handed a five-year jail term to a rights activist on Tuesday for public order offenses after he persistently questioned missing funds for post-2008 earthquake reconstruction, his relatives said.
Li Yiqian was sentenced by the Beichuan County People's Court after a detention lasting more than eight months for "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order."
"They sentenced him to five years, and he announced he would appeal on the spot," Li's son Li Yang said. "My father spoke in his own defense, and refused to admit to any of the twisted truths they had come up with."
"My father told the court ... that he was secretly detained on a train because he was going to file a petition [against the local government]," Li Yang said. "My father told them these were trumped-up charges designed to attack people who seek redress."
"He said that the [earthquake victims] would continue to petition, regardless."
Li Yang accused the police of faking evidence against his father.
"The government's evidence was all fake, and they said we had damaged a company," he said. "So why didn't the company sue us instead?"
"The government is using the law to attack citizens exercising their legal right to petition and complain," he added.
Li Yiqian has been a prominent campaigner on behalf of victims of the devastating 2008 earthquake, which ripped through Beichuan county on May 12, prompting the government to move the entire population to a newly constructed township, according to the Sichuan-based Tianwang rights website.
The government earmarked more than 60,000 mu (4,000 hectares) of farmland for the 10,000 relocated villagers of Changle, Hongqi, Wenquan, Dongyu, Hongyan, and Dongsheng.
But rights activists like Li say the local government has commandeered more than 50,000 mu of the land for gravel quarries to feed the booming construction industry.
He was detained during a raid on petitioners in early April, after police moved to prevent them from taking the case to higher authorities in Beijing.
Li Yiqian's lawyer, Ma Xiaopeng, told the court that the evidence against Li didn't prove he was guilty of any crime, including disturbing public order.
"Right now, it's a verbal decision, but they will hand out a judgment to me and to the defendant," Ma said. "We have 10 days in which to lodge and appeal, and Li Yiqian has already told the court that he wants to appeal the sentence."
Calls to the Beichuan County People's Procuratorate offices rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday, which isn't a public holiday in China.
Li Yang said the activist's family had been issued with 10 passes to attend the hearing, but that the authorities had taken some of them for officials from the local legislature.
"They also told us that we couldn't take any sort of electronic device into the courtroom, but the officials all had their cell phones with them."
"There were a few hundred [of Li's supporters] there too, but they wouldn't let them in," Li Yang said.
The government says it has poured 787.1 billion yuan (U.S $120 billion) in reconstruction funds into the region since the devastating earthquake killed more than 80,000 people.
But quake victims in a number of Sichuan counties have said they have yet to receive the assistance and funding promised to them.
Parents of thousands of schoolchildren killed in the earthquake have been harassed and detained by police after they tried to sue the government over allegations of shoddy construction in local schools, and lawyers across China have been warned not to take any cases.
They have also met with official harassment following long-running attempts to claim compensation they say is owed them under the government's quake reconstruction plan.
In April, Sichuan police detained a mother whose child was killed under a collapsed school building in the earthquake after she posted information about parents' campaigns for compensation to a popular Twitter-like service.
Zhou Xingrong, whose child died in the collapse of the Juyuan Middle School in Sichuan's Dujiangyan city, near Chengdu, said she was taken away by police on Wednesday and held for nine hours, tied to a chair.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.