Two rights activists jailed in China

 

TWO OF China’s most prominent human rights activists, both veterans of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, have been given hefty jail sentences for subversion.

In a growing crackdown on dissent, essayist Chen Xi was found guilty of “incitement to subvert state power” for dozens of articles he posted online and in which he advocated reform and human rights, and criticised the ruling Communist Party. He was given 10 years in jail by a court in the southern Chinese city of Guiyang.

Three days earlier, Chen Wei was sentenced to nine years by a court in Suining in Sichuan province after he was convicted of subversion for publishing anti-government material on foreign websites.

Tensions are high in China ahead of a crucial year that will see President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao gradually hand over power to a new generation of leaders, most likely Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.

This year has seen tighter security aimed at preventing Arab spring-style unrest taking hold in China. And there is anxiety in the leadership over slowing economic growth and rising inflation, a fear compounded by a series of violent protests in recent weeks in the south of the country.

The sentences for both Chens, who are not related, are heavy, and in line with the 11 years being served by Nobel Peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced on Christmas Day in 2009. Another democracy activist, Liu Xianbin, was given a 10-year sentence in March this year.

During his court case, Chen Xi was described as a repeat offender and his crime described as grave. His wife, Zhang Qunxuan, said they would not bother to appeal the sentence as they had already tried to introduce evidence into court but had failed.

Chen Xi has played a significant role in the Guizhou Human Rights Forum, a network of activists that organised human rights and pro-democracy activities in the southern Chinese region. Several members of this network have been jailed in recent months.

This is Chen Wei’s third time in prison.

As a student at the Beijing Institute of Technology, he took part in the 1989 Democracy movement and was jailed until 1990. He was then given five years in 1992 for involvement in various pro-democracy groups.

In the verdict, the 42-year-old was described as a “repeat offender”, while his crime was “heinous, and his influence vile”, Human Rights in China reported.

As he was led away, Chen Wei shouted: “Innocent! Constitutional democracy will prevail! Dictatorship will perish!” the group said.

The United Nations Human Rights office has expressed alarm at the sentences.