TOPICS > Politics

Chinese Dissident’s Prison Sentence Draws Rebuke

December 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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A Chinese court has sentenced a prominent political dissident to 11 years in prison. Margaret Warner recaps the developments.
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MARGARET WARNER: That follows our coverage of the sentencing today of one of China’s most prominent dissidents. Liu Xiaobo is beginning an 11-year prison term, after being convicted of the crime of subversion at a trial that lasted just two hours.

Outside the No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing this morning, police kept a few protesters at bay, as inside, the sentence against Liu was handed down. One supporter said it carried a clear message for would-be political reformers.

YANG LICAI (through translator): This shows that the government has destroyed the spirit of the legal and harmonious society that it has been claiming to advocate.

MARGARET WARNER: Officially, Liu was convicted of inciting to subvert state power, a broad charge often used by Chinese communist authorities to jail opponents. More than a dozen Western diplomats were denied entry to the proceedings, but a U.S. Embassy spokesman denounced the verdict outside the court.

GREGORY MAY, spokesman, U.S. Embassy in Beijing: The United States government is deeply concerned by the sentence of 11 years of prison announced today in the case of prominent Chinese democracy — democracy activist Liu Xiaobo under the charge of inciting subversion of state power.

Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognized norms of human rights.

MARGARET WARNER: That peaceful expression included Charter 08, an open letter co-authored by Liu and signed by more than 300 top Chinese thinkers. Released on the Internet last December, it called for open elections, free speech and rule of law.

The 53-year-old Liu was detained that same month, not the first time he’s run afoul of Chinese authorities. In 1989, while a visiting scholar in the U.S., he returned to China to take part in the Tiananmen Square uprising. He was jailed for 20 months after the government cracked down.

His wife, Liu Xia, spoke today after briefly meeting with her husband.

LIU XIA (through translator): He hopes that he is the last one charged with a crime for practicing freedom of expression. He thinks the government is aware that this is illegal and wrong, and he wishes that, one day, the government will come to realize that they shouldn’t hurt their own citizens by charging them for non-existing crimes.

MARGARET WARNER: But Chinese authorities have increasingly clamped down on freedom of expression, beginning last year, before the Beijing Olympics. The tightening comes even as China is growing into an economic powerhouse, and is making Beijing a key player on global issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to climate change.