A Chinese court sentenced Hu Jia, a prominent dissident, to three-and-a-half years in jail for subversion, a day after Amnesty International accused China of trying to silence dissent before the Olympics. (Report: C. Norris-Trent)
Activist Hu Jia was on Thursday jailed for three years and six months for subversion, his lawyer said, amid what rights groups charge is a campaign by China to silence dissent before the Olympics.
The verdict against Hu, 34, prompted an immediate response from the United States, which described the charge against him as wrong and called on China to improve its record on human rights ahead of the Beijing Games in August.
The European Union also hit out at the verdict and called for Hu's immediate release.
Hu, for many years one of China's most active and high-profile human rights campaigners, was found guilty at a Beijing court of "incitement to subvert state power" following his one-day trial last month, lawyer Li Fangping said.
Li said the subversion charge had related to Hu posting information on the Internet and speaking with foreign reporters.
"The evidence was publishing articles in and outside of China and accepting interviews with the foreign press," Li told reporters outside the court, adding he believed the verdict was unjust.
"As far as his lawyers are concerned, three and a half years is unacceptable."
Li said he would advise Hu to appeal, but he had not had the chance to speak with his client following the verdict.
Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, 24, who recently gave birth to their first child and is also a prominent rights activist, said the verdict was the culmination of four years of harassment by authorities.
"He's been kidnapped. He's been put under house arrest and now they have sentenced him to three and a half years. This is not fair. This is not just," Zeng told reporters outside the courthouse as she broke down in tears.
Hu's sentence came less than two weeks after another critic of the Chinese government, Yang Chunlin, was jailed for five years on similar charges after speaking out on human rights issues ahead of the Beijing Games.
Yang, 52, a former factory worker, was jailed after he collected more than 10,000 signatures for a petition entitled: "We want human rights, not the Olympics".
Hu's verdict also came as China's communist rulers remained under international pressure over its handling of a crackdown on more than three weeks of unrest in Tibet.
Rights groups have regularly criticised China's use of the subversion of state power charge as a tool to silence anyone critical of the Communist Party, a campaign they have said has intensified ahead of the Games.
They have argued this is in contravention of the pledges China made to win the Games that it would improve its human rights record.
The US embassy spokeswoman in Beijing, Susan Stevenson, described the charge against Hu as "specious".
"We are dismayed by this verdict," Stevenson told AFP.
"In this Olympic year, we urge China to seize the opportunity to put its best face forward and take steps to improve its record on human rights and religious freedom."
The European Union's spokesman in Beijing, William Fingleton, said Hu should never have gone on trial.
"We said very clearly before the trial that he should not have been detained in the first place and that he should be released, and this remains our position," Fingleton told AFP.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last month denied that Beijing was cracking down on dissidents ahead of the Olympics.
"As for the critics' view that China is trying to increase its efforts to arrest dissidents before the Olympic Games, I think such accusations are totally unfounded. There is no such question at all," Wen said.
Date created : 2008-04-03