Leading Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on subversion charges, as the US calls for his release.
The 53-year-old Liu, a writer who was jailed over the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, was tried on Wednesday for “inciting subversion of state power” after co-authoring a bold call for political reform last year.
He co-wrote Charter 08, which calls for human rights protection and the reform of China’s one-party communist system. It has been signed by more than 10,000 people, according to China Human Rights Defenders, an activist network.
One of his lawyers, Ding Xikui, confirmed the sentence to AFP, adding that he was unsure whether Liu — who has already been detained for a year — would appeal. He had faced a maximum prison term of 15 years.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced the proceedings as purely political. Activists say China pushes such cases through the courts during the Western holiday season in a bid to attract less global attention.
“This trial, condemned by human rights activists worldwide, along with the European Union and the United States, is an affront to the rule of law in China,” Paris-based Reporters without Borders said in a statement.
Police presence at the courthouse was stepped up Friday, with only the press pack milling around outside the building. No supporters of Liu were seen.
A group of Western diplomats, denied access to Wednesday’s proceedings, tried to attend Friday’s hearing but were again refused, according to an AFP reporter at the courthouse.
The dissident’s wife Liu Xia told AFP on Friday that she was being taken to the courthouse. She was not allowed to attend Wednesday’s trial.
In Washington, the State Department said “a political trial that will likely lead to a political conviction is uncharacteristic of a great country”, and a US official reiterated a call for Liu’s release at the courthouse Wednesday.
The EU has also called for Liu to be freed without condition.
On Thursday, Beijing slammed the foreign diplomats who tried to attend Liu’s trial and the governments who have made statements on Liu’s behalf for what it said was their “gross interference” in China’s affairs.
“We urge relevant countries to respect China’s judicial sovereignty and to stop doing anything that interferes in China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
Mo Shaoping, the head of the firm defending Liu, said the writer’s case was significant, as he had campaigned for greater human rights and democracy in China for decades.
“He has worked to try to find a way to allow the ordinary citizen to criticise the government or to make proposals to the government, on how the people can participate in government,” Mo told AFP on Wednesday.
“We pleaded not guilty — his crime is a crime of speech.”
The subversion charge — which another of Liu’s lawyers Shang Baojun says also relates to articles posted on the Internet — is routinely brought against those who voice opposition to China’s ruling Communist Party.