On Friday, China sentenced pro-democracy activist Liu Xianbin to ten years in prison and two years and four months deprivation of political rights on the charges of slandering the Communist party in his writings, says Amnesty International. Liu was charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ which is a ‘grave charge that is often subject to broad interpretation by the judicial authorities,’ according to the New York Times.
The recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have alarmed China’s Communist government, which continues to censor reports about the protests that led to the ouster of presidents in Tunisia and Egypt, and to demonstrations even in Syria, whose government is one of the most repressive and closed in the Middle East. Human rights groups say that the 43-year-old Liu’s sentence is unusually harsh and is a further sign that the Chinese government is increasing its crackdown on dissent in the wake of anonymous calls on the Internet in February for a ‘jasmine revolution’ for people to protest the Communist Party’s rule in a number of cities throughout China.
Recently, more than two dozen Chinese writers, activists, and lawyers have been detained on criminal charges, with some simply disappearing into police custody. Says the New York Times:
Mr. Liu is no stranger to China’s unforgiving judicial system. A veteran of the 1989 democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, he was arrested two years later and given a two-and-half-year term for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement,” stemming from posters he wrote calling for an end to government repression. In 1999, after helping to establish the China Democratic Party, he was given a 13-year sentence.
In the months after his release Mr. Liu promptly resumed his agitation for political reform. He signed Charter 08, an online petition that called for expanded liberties and universal suffrage, and wrote articles that promoted nonviolent protest. A number of essays stridently criticized the Communist Party.
During his two-hour trial Friday at the Suining Intermediate People’s Court, prosecutors introduced two articles as evidence, including one entitled “Street Protests are an Important Tactic for the Chinese Democratic Movement.”
Liu’s wife, Chen Mingxian, was in the courtroom on Friday when her husband was sentenced; in a telephone interview with the New York Times, she said that, when Liu attempted to speak, he was repeatedly cut off by the judge. Even when Liu, who has spent almost one-third of his life in jail, was living with Chen and their 13-year-old daughter, restrictions were placed on him so that he could not find a job. In addition, security agents often put pressure on prospective employers to take back offers of employment from Liu.
In recent weeks, the Chinese government has also increased restrictions on foreign journalists and closed Tibet to foreigners, all further signs that its ruling Communist party is at least a bit concerned about calls for democracy in repressive regimes around the world.
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Photo of Hong Kong demonstrators in support of Liu Xianbin by 美国之音 青越 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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