A court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Wednesday handed a 10-year jail term to a Hong Kong publisher who edited a book highly critical of President Xi Jinping, his lawyer said.
Yiu Mantin, 79, was handed the sentence by the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court, which found him guilty of "smuggling ordinary goods," his former lawyer Ding Xikui told RFA.
Yiu's U.S.-based son Edmond Yiu, known in Mandarin as Yao Yongzhan, said he was "angry" at the sentence, which activists and relatives say is far more likely to be linked to his work on a controversial book by U.S.-based dissident author Yu Jie, titled "Xi Jinping: China’s Godfather."
"We find this totally unacceptable, and we will be appealing," Edmond Yiu told RFA after the sentence was passed. "We are in shock."
"This entire case is a form of persecution of my father, and we will continue to fight it."
He said there was very little evidence to support the charges of smuggling.
"These charges were ridiculous," he said.
Ding said it was unclear whether Yiu, an editor at Hong Kong's Morning Bell Press whose name in Mandarin is Yao Wentian, had been sentenced in court or in his absence.
"The court sentenced him to 10 years' imprisonment, and he was convicted of smuggling common goods," he said.
"Of course I think that's a heavy sentence."
Ding added that he had already handed over responsibility for defending Yiu to another lawyer who didn't wish to be named.
Hong Kong's newly established press watchdog, the Independent Commentators' Association, said it was worried that Yiu's heavy jail term would have a chilling effect on publishing in the former British colony, which was promised the continuation of existing freedoms after the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
"Recently, there have been a series of attacks on press freedom [in Hong Kong], on the media and the publishing industry, and we are increasingly worried that freedom of speech is becoming more and more restricted," the group said.
It said growing political pressure on media and publishing in Hong Kong were at odds with the territory's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
"We are even more concerned that the mainland authorities are waging a public opinion war [on Hong Kong], which would be at odds with the 'one country, two systems' and 'high degree of autonomy' stipulated in the Basic Law," the statement said.
Calls to Yu Jie went unanswered during working hours on Wednesday.
Yiu was detained on a trip to Shenzhen from neighboring Hong Kong last October with seven bottles of undeclared paint he brought across the border to Shenzhen, media reports said at the time.
Sentencing in smuggling cases is usually dictated by the total value of the allegedly smuggled goods.
Edmond Yiu pleaded for his father’s release in an open letter to Xi Jinping in February, saying that the senior Yiu suffered from heart disease and asthma.
Yiu was held at two hospital facilities since his formal arrest in November, local media reports said.
Yu Jie told RFA at the time of Yiu's detention that the editor had received a threatening phone call shortly before his trip, warning him not to go ahead and publish the book.
Yu, who is also the author of "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao," a scathing critique of China's former premier, said the caller had described the book as "extremely sensitive" and told Yiu it must not be published.
The caller had also threatened Yiu with consequences for his personal safety and that of his family, should he ignore the warning.
Overseas rights groups appealed in January for the international community to put pressure on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to release Yiu, amid growing concerns for his failing health.
Hong Kong, which was supposed to retain its traditional freedoms for 50 years under the terms of the handover, is a popular destination for authors of censored Chinese books, where they find an eager market.
But journalists and political analysts say self-censorship to avoid angering Beijing is now beginning to permeate the media and publishing industry.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.