Chinese court upholds prominent scholar's 11-year punishment

By Cara Anna
Friday, February 12, 2010

BEIJING -- A Chinese court upheld Thursday the unprecedented 11-year sentence given to a prominent scholar who had called for political reform, the latest in a string of harsh punishments for dissenters.

The ruling -- the third legal defeat this week for veteran Chinese activists -- drew a rare public rebuke from the U.S. ambassador, who said Liu Xiaobo should be released immediately.

Liu's hearing at Beijing's high court took fewer than 10 minutes, and the activist was not given a chance to speak. "I'm innocent!" he called out before being taken away.

The United States and the European Union responded swiftly to Liu's failed appeal with statements condemning China's treatment of the scholar, who has been found guilty of inciting to subvert state power. China routinely uses the vaguely worded charge to jail people it considers troublemakers.

"Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognized norms of human rights," U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman said in an e-mailed statement. It was the first statement issued under his name since he took the post in August.

Asked whether China's treatment of dissidents might negatively affect its image overseas, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu responded, "There are no dissidents in China."

It was bad week here for activists: On Tuesday, a court in Sichuan province sentenced writer and activist Tan Zuoren to five years on the same charge as Liu after he investigated the deaths of thousands of children in a massive earthquake in 2008.

On Monday, the same court upheld a three-year prison sentence for another earthquake activist, Huang Qi, who was convicted on the ill-defined charge of illegally possessing state secrets.

A former university professor, Liu is among China's most prominent political activists. He spent 20 months in jail for joining the 1989 student-led protests in Tiananmen Square, which ended when the government called in the military -- killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of demonstrators.

At the end of 2008, he co-authored a document calling for stronger civil rights and an end to Communist Party political dominance. About 10,000 people have signed it, though a news blackout and Internet censorship left most Chinese unaware that it exists.

After the court proceedings Thursday, Liu's wife was given 20 minutes with her husband and allowed to hug him.

"So thin!" Liu Xia said of her husband. "I just wanted to be able to hold him. It might be 11 years before I can hold him again."

-- Associated Press

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