China jails activist for nine months

Wang Lihong, detained in March over protest in support of bloggers, found guilty of "stirring up trouble".

    Wang Lihong's supporters outside the court denounced the sentence, a couple of them burst into tears [Reuters]

    Wang Lihong, a Chinese rights activist, has been sentenced to nine months in jail for staging a protest on behalf of other activists, in a move condemned by human rights campaigners as part of a broad crackdown on dissent.

    The 55-year-old, a veteran of China's 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, plans to appeal the sentence in the next 10 days, Liu Xiaoyuan, defence lawyer, told the AFP news agency on Friday.

    If Wang loses her appeal, she is due to be released in December, taking into account her time already spent in detention, Liu said.

    Her lawyer said the sentence was "relatively light" compared to the five-year maximum prison term that the Beijing court could have meted out.

    But her son, Qi Jianxiang, told reporters: "I think this is a heavy sentence. She should never have been sentenced at all."

    "My mother wasn't campaigning for rights for her own interest but for the sake of others, and now she has been sentenced for it," he said.

    The district court took 10 minutes to sentence Wang. She was found guilty of "stirring up trouble" based on a protest in 2010, when she demonstrated outside a court in eastern China's Fujian province where three bloggers were on trial.

    She was among 30 people to travel to Fuzhou city in April 2010 to wave banners and sing songs outside a courthouse while three bloggers stood trial, accused of slander for trying to help a woman persuade authorities to re-investigate her daughter's death.

    Verdict denounced

    Her supporters outside the court denounced the sentence, a couple of them weeping, but heavy security kept their numbers down.

    Dozens of uniformed and plain clothes police watched, filmed and photographed the supporters and other activists.

    European diplomats said they were not allowed in, and one EU attache said they were "disappointed". But the diplomats did not directly comment on the verdict.

    Some of the supporters who had taken part in previous demonstrations with Wang said they would continue their activism and predicted Wang would rejoin their campaigning.

    "Sister Wang is a person full of love, a person with a sense of public responsibility,'' Zhao Tangqin said outside the courthouse.

    At her trial in mid-August, her lawyers argued that if the protest had created a disturbance she should have been arrested and prosecuted in Fuzhou, instead of the Chinese capital, Beijing.

    Prominent Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei - recently released from detention himself - posted a message in early August on microblogging site Twitter on her behalf.

    "If you don't speak out for Wang Lihong, you are not just a person who will not stand up for fairness and justice, you do not have self-respect," he wrote.

    Crackdown on dissent

    Wang was detained in March as part of what activists say was a campaign to deter Chinese citizens from imitating the uprisings against autocratic governments in the Arab world.

    Given that her arrest came amid an overall crackdown on dissent, the rights community said she was being punished for her broader activism.

    Her case came to symbolise Chinese leaders' rising wariness about a public that is wired to the internet and upset at social injustice.

    In recent months, signs of discord have abounded, with riots by rural migrants, caustic reactions to the government's handling of a train collision on the showcase high-speed rail system and a 10,000-person strong protest over a chemical plant.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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