Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have handed a nine-year jail term to writer Chen Wei for subversion after he published pro-democracy essays on the Internet, his lawyer said on Friday.
The Suining Intermediate People's Court sentenced Chen at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour trial in which he was found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power."
After Chen, 42, was sentenced, he shouted out in court: "Democracy and constitutional government will triumph! The dictatorship with fall!"
Chen's lawyers said the case against him was based on 26 articles he wrote between March 2009 and January 2011, criticizing the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the lack of democratic politics in China. He also called for greater freedom of expression.
"They sentenced him to nine years, along with two years' deprivation of political rights," Chen's wife Wang Xiaoyan said on Friday. "According to the judgment, there was plenty of evidence and the influence of [his essays] was pernicious."
"Whenever Chen or his lawyer tried to speak, they said their points were irrelevant to the case," Wang said.
"We all thought there was no freedom of speech; they wouldn't let them say anything," she added.
Police cordoned off the area outside the court in Suining, and subjected Chen's relatives and legal team to security checks, she said.
"We weren't allowed to take any items into the courtroom, and we even had a security check if we went to the bathroom," Wang said.
She said the police at the courthouse far outnumbered Chen's family and supporters.
Chen's lawyer Liang Xiaojun hit out at the harshness of the sentence, saying that his client was innocent. "It was all because of those articles, which were in favor of democracy and constitutional government," he said. "It is inhumane to sentence him to nine years for this."
"We never thought the sentence would be so long."
Liang confirmed that Chen wasn't given a chance to speak during the trial. "He had prepared a statement, and he wanted to read it out, but they wouldn't allow him to," he said.
He said Chen was unlikely to appeal the sentence, however.
"He wouldn't want to play along with their charade," Liang said. "He doesn't think there would be any change [in outcome.]"
Fellow rights activist Duan Qixian said he was detained after he went to the court to hear the trial.
"The state security police took us to the local police station as soon as we arrived at 8 a.m. to listen to the trial," Duan said from inside the police station. "We are waiting for them to get the car and take us back to the station."
"They are adamant that we have to leave," Duan said. "We don't know on what basis they are forcing us to leave Suining, and they haven't explained it."
He said he had just heard the news of Chen's sentence. "We are all very angry about it," Duan said.
Chen's sentence comes just days 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 spokesman Rupert Colville has hit out at the move, saying high commissioner Navi Pillay is "disturbed" by the development.
"For the past 20 months, Gao has been subject to strict monitoring measures by the Public Security Bureau in what appears to be a form of house arrest in an unknown location," Colville said in a news release this week.
"The case is illustrative of a trend of secret detention and disappearances of human rights defenders."
He said Chinese officials had responded frequently to requests for information from the high commissioner's office. "In their responses they never once mentioned that he was violating the probation rules," Colville told reporters.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.