Chinese Rights Advocate Gets 3 1/2-Year Prison Term

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 3, 2008

BEIJING, April 3 -- Hu Jia, a persistent human rights campaigner in custody since December, was convicted Thursday of subverting the Chinese government through his online writings and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, his lawyer announced.

The conviction, widely expected since Hu's 3 1/2 -hour trial March 18, was denounced by the human rights group Amnesty International as a betrayal of China's commitments in winning the role as host of the 2008 Summer Olympics in August.

"The manipulations that led to this guilty verdict are a blatant perversion of justice," T. Kumar, Amnesty's Asia advocacy director, said in a statement. "It is deeply disturbing that officials would so openly turn their backs on commitments to improve human rights in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. Hu Jia must be released immediately and unconditionally."

The conviction added to indications that President Hu Jintao and the Communist Party have decided that enforcing the party's strictures against political criticism is more important than gaining approval abroad ahead of the Olympics. Under the Chinese system, courts have remained subservient to the party and often solicit advice from political authorities before rendering a verdict, according to Chinese lawyers.

Hu Jia, 34, was convicted on the basis of five articles he posted on the Internet in 2006 and 2007 and several interviews with foreign reporters during which he complained of limits imposed on his freedom to move about during the 17th Party Congress in Beijing last October, his lawyer said.

In the articles, Hu compared the party to the Mafia and called for improved treatment of Chinese with AIDS. He also advocated more freedom for religious activities and greater autonomy for Tibet, taboo subjects in China's censored political discourse.

The prosecutor maintained, and the court ruled, that those statements violated Chinese law barring incitement to subvert state authority, said Hu's lawyer, Li Fangping.

"But I don't think this amounts to inciting to subvert state authority," Li told reporters outside the courtroom. "He just exercised his right to free speech."

Li said Hu also was sentenced to deprivation of his political rights, including free speech, for one year after his jail term.

Hu said nothing during the hearing, Li added, but appeared in good health. His mother and his wife, Zeng Jinyan, were present, he added. The lawyer suggested they might appeal to have Hu transferred from prison to a hospital so he can be treated for an unspecified disease.

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