A Chinese court Friday sentenced human rights advocate Chen Wei to nine years in prison, the toughest ruling issued this year in the ongoing government crackdown on dissidents, rights activists and protest organizers. Chen, 42, was sentenced after a two hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion [Reuters report] of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which Chen published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. He was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun [website, in Chinese] reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February. The vast majority of those detained have been released without charges or on bail, but officials apparently wanted to make an example of Chen, and China's party-run courts rarely find in favor of defendants in trials for political charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] called the sentence unacceptable and urged Chinese authorities to release Chen immediately [press release]. His sentence is the third-longest term ever handed down for inciting subversion in China.
The two longer sentences for subversion convictions belong to Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who has been serving an 11-year sentence [JURIST report] since 2009, and Liu Xianbin, who was jailed for 10 years in March. In May the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] called for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia [JURIST report] after being jailed for a subversion conviction in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats. Earlier this week prominent civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] was sent to prison for three years for violating his probation, the first sign that he is still alive [JURIST report] since having disappeared 20 months ago, presumably at the hands of the authorities. The US Department of State [official website] in June urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to release protesters arrested for their Tiananmen Square involvement and account for those missing or killed during the suppression. The State Department also urged China to protect universal human rights afforded to peaceful dissenters, and to release those that had been detained or placed under house arrest.