A court in the Chinese capital on Tuesday handed down a two-and-a-half year jail term to disabled rights lawyer Ni Yulan and jailed her husband for two years, lawyers and rights groups said.
Beijing lawyer and eviction activist Ni Yulan, 52, was convicted of "fraud" and "creating a disturbance" by the Xicheng District People's Court.
Ni's husband, former schoolteacher Dong Jiqin, was also convicted of "causing a disturbance" and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, the group said.
Ni's lawyer Cheng Hai said that the couple had vowed to appeal their sentences when they were announced at around 10:00 a.m. local time.
"This is definitely an unjust decision," Cheng said. "They have the right to appeal, and I will be meeting with them soon to talk about the details of the appeal."
He said Ni had sat in court in her wheelchair with a blanket over her knees during the hearing, while Dong appeared with a herbal plaster stuck to his head.
"Both of them were held in detention for a year, beyond the legal limit," Cheng said. "Neither of them looked well. Ni Yulan had gone totally grey."
"I don't know how [Dong] came to be injured," he said, adding that there had been no time to ask them, as the couple were taken away again immediately after the sentence was read out.
The couple's daughter, Dong Xuan, said she was concerned for her mother's health after seeing her in court.
"My mother had lost so much weight she was a bag of bones," she said.
"I couldn't see her from the front, and there were two police officers standing behind her when she came in, so I couldn't get a clear look at her. She didn't turn around to look at me, either."
A Hong Kong-based rights group hit out at the sentences on Tuesday.
"By handing down this verdict to punish human rights activist Ni Yulan, who suffered from torture that left her paralyzed during previous imprisonment, the Chinese government tells the world defiantly that it has nothing but disdain for human rights and that it treats its international and constitutional obligations merely as decorations," Renee Xia, international director of the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), said in an e-mailed statement.
More than 100 police officers cordoned off the court buildings ahead of the sentencing hearing that lasted just 10 minutes, and which was attended only by the couple's daughter Dong Xuan, CHRD said.
The group said that a number of Beijing petitioners were also held under surveillance at home on Tuesday to prevent them from traveling to the hearing to support Ni.
The couple were detained just over a year ago amid a nationwide round-up of dissidents and rights activists sparked by online calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" inspired by the Arab Spring protests in the Middle East.
Police accused them of "tearing up the registration book" and "hurling insults" at the staff at the Yuxinyuan Guest House, where they had been living after a period spent sleeping rough in a Beijing park.
Ni's fraud conviction sprang from allegations by police that she claimed to be a lawyer after the authorities revoked her business license in retaliation for her work on behalf of evictees in Beijing. Their homes had been demolished to make way for construction projects linked to the city's hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games.
The jail term will be the third conviction for Ni, who had already served jail terms in 2002 and 2008 for "obstructing official business."
She has reported extensive torture and harassment at the hands of the police, and the couple's home was demolished by the Xicheng district government in 2008, CHRD said.
Ni is wheelchair-bound as the result of alleged torture at the hands of the police, and suffers various other health problems.
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman had visited the couple at the Yuxingong Guesthouse in February 2011 after authorities pressured the hotel to switch off their electricity, and activists linked the couple's redetention to a speech Huntsman made protesting China's human rights abuses in Shanghai.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.