A court in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Thursday handed down a three-and-a-half-year prison term to a fourth man who sold liquor with references to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre on the label, following a secret trial.
The sentencing of Chen Bing, who was found guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," was the heaviest handed down to four defendants in the case and came after a closed-doors trial that lasted around two hours, sources told RFA.
The same court on Wednesday sentenced Luo Fuyu to three years' imprisonment suspended for four years, and released him immediately after his trial.
Fellow defendants Fu Hailu and Zhang Junyong were also released after being handed suspended sentences by the court on Monday and Tuesday.
Chen Bing’s sister-in-law Wang Xiaoyan said he has yet to decide whether to appeal or not.
"This is not fair. I can't explain it to you, but I just think it's unfair," Wang said.
Asked if she knew why Chen hadn't received a suspended sentence like the others, Wang said: "Do you think the judge would explain that to me?"
However, Chen's refusal to plead guilty and his defense of his actions were likely behind the harsher sentence he received, sources said.
A historical event
Chen reportedly told the court that the June 4, 1989 massacre of civilians by China's People Liberation Army (PLA) troops was a historical event that changed China's trajectory.
"The day will come when the trauma of June 4 is confronted ... only then can truth, reconciliation, and forgiveness move forward," his statement said.
However, the court refused to admit evidence from witnesses for the defense.
The parents of Xiao Jie and Wu Guofeng, who were killed in the massacre, had originally intended to testify in Chen's defense, but RFA has learned that their evidence and testimony were ruled inadmissible at a pretrial meeting on Thursday.
Chen's lawyer responded that he was therefore unable to fulfill his duties as a defense attorney, and questioned the validity of the trial, sources said.
Chen Bing's friend Zhang Yunzhong said Chen had refused to fire his attorney and accept a lawyer chosen by the government.
"The other three defendants changed to government-appointed lawyers, but he refused to replace his attorney," Zhang said. "I am guessing that this was an aggravating factor in his sentence."
Chen's twin brother Chen Wei was also involved in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, and was jailed in the wake of the military crackdown.
He later served separate jail terms of five and nine years for subversion for his role in the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) and for pro-democracy essays that he published online.
Chen Bing’s twin brother Chen Wei was involved in the 1989 school movement and was arrested and imprisoned after the June 4th incident.
In 1992, he participated in the organization of the Chinese Liberal Democratic Party and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2011, he was sentenced to nine years in prison for subversion.
"Chen Wei was a leader of the 1989 student movement," Zhang Yunzhong said. "I think both brothers have been affected by that."
"The [ruling] Chinese Communist Party probably sees them as the usual suspects."
According to an account set up to campaign for the four on Twitter, security was tight during Chen's trial, with a heavy police presence, including state security police in plain clothes.
In Hong Kong, about 30 activists staged a protest outside Beijing's representative office in the city to demand their release, as well as a full official inquiry into the events of June 1989.
'Not very happy'
Luo Fuyu’s trial on Wednesday lasted only about an hour. He was handed a three-year jail term on the same charges as the others, suspended for four years.
Luo's wife Gao Yan said she was getting ready to meet her husband on Wednesday afternoon.
"They are telling me about some things that have to be sorted out, and I can pick him up when I'm done," she said.
Asked if she was happy with the sentence, she replied: "I'm not very happy, no."
However, calls to her number rang unanswered later in the day.
Zhang said the three men who have been released are still under restrictions for the whole of the term of their suspension.
"It means that they have to stay in [Chengdu] after they are released, and report back about their thinking every week," he said. "There are some things you daren't do. You're not allowed to post anything online."
Held before trial
The trials came after the four were held for three years in pretrial detention, amid repeated delays and postponements by the authorities.
The four were initially detained in May 2016, after they marketed bottles of liquor bearing the words "June 4, 1989" and a cartoon of a man in front of an advancing column of tanks on the label. The label also says "Never forget, never give up."
According to another slogan on the bottle, the baijiu spirit had "matured for 27 years," the length of time since People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops put an end to weeks of student protests on Tiananmen Square, using tanks and machine guns on largely unarmed civilians.
Media reports at the time said the Tiananmen-themed liquor had been designed for private circulation among groups of friends on social media, rather than for public sale.
Reported by Lee Wang-yam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.