Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei on Monday handed a five-year jail term to an anti-corruption activist for subversion, after he organized gatherings to discuss human rights and social justice, and tweeted in support of a fellow activist.
Liu Jiacai was sentenced by the Yichang Intermediate People's Court to five years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power," his second jail term on the same charge, his wife and lawyer told RFA.
"The sentence was too harsh, and was the maximum possible," Liu's lawyer Wu Kuiming said after the sentencing hearing in Yichang, which took place Monday morning local time.
"There are two categories of 'incitement to subvert state power,' and the maximum penalty in the first category is five years," Wu said.
"He clearly wasn't a ringleader, nor were the specifics of the case very serious, so he came under the first category," he said.
Wu said Liu, who was held in the police-run Yichang No. 1 Detention Center ahead of the sentencing, had rejected the guilty verdict in a post-hearing meeting with his lawyer, and plans to appeal.
"He told me that while he can endure the deprivations of detention, he feels terribly guilty about his family," Wu said.
"His wife understands him deeply, and is supportive of him, but he feels he has let her down by being unable to give her any financial support," he said.
"He was weeping as he told me this."
The couple also has a grown daughter, who has a job, Wu added.
Liu's wife Wang Yulan, who attended the sentencing hearing on Monday, said it lasted just 10 minutes.
"I think the sentence was too harsh; I didn't think it would be so heavy," Wang said.
"We will definitely be appealing. If he doesn't, I will," she said.
Wang said Liu had been handed a heavier jail term than New Citizens' Movement founder Xu Zhiyong or prominent rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi.
"I really find this unacceptable [because] his actions had no [ill] effects on society," she said.
"All he did was post some stuff online."
Liu's detention came after he retweeted a microblog post in support of Shandong-based civil rights activist Li Xiangyang, activists said at the time.
Wang added: "It only took 10 minutes, and when they were done sentencing him, they took him away."
"They didn't even allow the lawyers to speak."
Active in the movement
Liu was initially detained by police in Hubei's Yichang city after becoming active in the "New Citizens' Movement" in August 2013 and charged with "incitement to subvert state power" after completing a 10-day administrative sentence handed down by police.
Liu had recently become active in China's nascent New Citizens' Movement targeting officials for graft and demanding they reveal their assets.
However, his sentencing comes after many years of being targeted by the authorities for his pro-democracy activism and rights advocacy.
Liu previously served a two-year jail term in 2002, also for "incitement to subvert state power," and returned to his hometown in Hubei in 2012 after being dismissed from a job in the southwestern province of Yunnan, in a move that rights groups said was likely linked to his activism.
Meanwhile, rights activists Wang Fang and Yi Xu'an were detained by police outside the court buildings and forcibly escorted back to their homes in the provincial capital, Wuhan.
Wang, who spoke to RFA during her train journey home, said security was tight outside the court buildings, where 20-30 supporters had gathered ahead of the hearing on Monday morning.
"They had police there from 7:30 a.m.," she said. "Then, they came over just after 8 a.m. and stopped us by the side of the road and asked to see our ID," she said. "Then they took us to the Gaoxin district police station in Yichang."
"This should have been open to the public, but they were worried that people would get into the court as spectators," Wang said.
"Then they drove us to the high-speed railway station and sent us back home."
Yi, who was recently held in criminal detention on suspicion of "leaking state secrets" before being released on "bail" last month, said he fears the ruling Chinese Communist Party will deal with future dissent with an even heavier hand.
"I think we are going to see a much heavier crackdown, especially for online [activism]," he said. "They'll be laying trumped-up charges on people left and right."
Yi said police had physically escorted them aboard the train and watched it leave before moving away from the platform.
Jail terms handed down
Beijing's Haidian District People's Court handed down jail terms of up to three-and-a-half years to four New Citizens' Movement activists on April 18, 2014, including rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order."
Legal scholar and movement co-founder Xu Zhiyong received a four-year jail term in January on identical charges.
In May 2012, Xu had penned an article titled "China Needs a New Citizens Movement," which is believed to have spurred the loose nationwide network of activists to action.
The article called on responsible citizens to oppose corruption and work to support disadvantaged groups, as well as holding political meetings and collaborating to achieve these goals.
Xu was the highest-profile Chinese dissident to be sentenced to jail since 2009, when Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was ordered imprisoned for 11 years for subversion after helping organize the "Charter 08" petition calling for sweeping political change and a constitutional government.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.