Authorities in the south-central province of Henan have handed a one-year jail term to an AIDS activist who tried to highlight the plight of people living with HIV in poverty-stricken rural China.
Tian Xi, 23, who lives with HIV, was formally indicted in August 2010 for "suspected damage to hospital property," and stood trial in September at the Xincai County People's Court.
However, the court referred the decision to a higher level in November, leading his lawyer to believe there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
"We really didn't expect this," said Tian's lawyer, Liang Xiaojun, after the sentence was announced. "We were of the opinion that he would be found innocent and released."
"Either that, or we thought he would receive a sentence of six months, which would mean he could be released immediately," he said.
Tian has already been in detention for six months, time which will count toward his sentence.
He was detained on Aug. 18, 2010 for "destroying unspecified items in the hospital president's office," the official Global Times newspaper reported.
Liang said Tian made a brief statement at the sentencing hearing, saying he believed that the law was being applied selectively, with no consideration for the context of his actions.
"He said it was a miscarriage of justice, and that he would appeal," he said, adding that he would file an appeal after Tian had been taken back to the detention center.
A number of Tian's supporters, some of whom followed the case online, arrived at the court to support him.
"We didn't think he would get a year," said netizen Hoodlum Yan. "I think this is ridiculous."
"I really don't think they have any business sentencing Tian Xi at all."
Tian was one of China's most outspoken AIDS patients. In 2009, he was detained outside the Chinese Health Ministry in Beijing after staging a protest on World AIDS Day.
Tian said he wanted to draw the attention of China’s leaders to the suffering of people living with HIV in China.
Lawyers and civil rights activists say people with AIDS are constantly denied treatment in hospitals in China and have often died as a result.
Without heavy external pressure, children with AIDS are also denied entry into schools.
Official estimates put the number of people living with HIV in China at about 700,000, with around 85,000 people having full-blown AIDS, according to UNAIDS.
The HIV virus that causes AIDS gained a foothold in China largely as a result of unsanitary blood plasma-buying schemes and tainted transfusions in hospitals.
While health authorities say sex has overtaken drug use as the main cause of HIV infections in China, veteran activist and retired gynecologist Gao Yaojie has repeatedly said that infection-through-transfusion is a continuing scandal in poverty-stricken Hunan province.
Police have denied claims that the case against Tian was brought as a result of his campaign activities on behalf of people living with HIV.
Tian contracted HIV at the age of nine after a mild concussion following an accident, when he received a blood transfusion at the Xincai People's Hospital.
He was paid 30,000 yuan (U.S. $4,404) in compensation from his local township government, but has repeatedly called on the hospital to take responsibility as well.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.