China dissident gets 11-year term

Scholar is found guilty of inciting subversion through writings and rights petition

December 26, 2009|By Steven Mufson | The Washington Post

BEIJING — — China's leading dissident, Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced Friday to 11 years in prison after a court found the 53-year-old literary scholar guilty of "inciting subversion to state power" through his writings and role in Charter 08, a petition advocating human rights, free speech and an end to one-party rule.

The verdict sent a signal that China's Communist Party will continue to stifle domestic political critics, especially those who seek to organize their fellow Chinese. And it provided evidence that political modernization might not go hand in hand with China's economic modernization.

"You can think democracy, you can talk democracy, but you can't do democracy," said Li Fan, director of the World and China Institute in Beijing.

"It certainly seems to reflect a high level of sensitivity and very low level of tolerance," said Rebecca MacKinnon, a fellow at the Open Society Institute and co-founder of "The chances of political reform taking place today seem lower than in the late '90s."

But reform initiatives have stalled, and there was little evidence of openness in the handling of Liu's case this week.

Liu's trial, which took place at the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, lasted less than three hours Wednesday. The judge rejected evidence the defense sought to introduce and limited the speaking time of Liu's attorneys to 14 minutes, according to one of Liu's brothers. He said that 18 mostly young people were allowed to listen to the proceedings but that Liu's wife, Liu Xia, could not. She planned to attend the Friday sentencing, having seen her husband only twice since he was detained more than a year ago.

The judge also barred journalists and foreign diplomats. In contrast to the 1990s, when visits by international envoys often brought the release of dissidents, China has ignored calls by the Obama administration and other Western governments for Liu's release.

"As far as we can tell, this man's crime was simply signing a piece of paper that aspires to a more open and participatory form of government. That is not a crime," said P.J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Thursday that calls for Liu's release were a "gross interference" in China's internal affairs.

Mo Shaoping, a prominent human rights lawyer, said that the success of the 2008 Olympics, the economic crisis in the West and the 60th anniversary of the Communist takeover had made the Chinese government "more and more arrogant" toward international critics.

One of Liu's brothers, Liu Xiaoxuan, said prosecutors focused on 350 words collected from a half-dozen of the 490 articles Liu wrote over a five-year period. In those excerpts, Liu sharply criticized the Chinese government, calling it a dictatorship that sought to use patriotism to fool people into loving the government rather than the country, the brother said.

Liu Xiaoxuan, a professor of material engineering at Guangdong University of Technology, said his brother told the court that the country's "progress can't cover up the mistakes you've made and the flaws of your institutions."

Zhang Zuhua, primary drafter of Charter 08, is under police surveillance at his home. Other signatories have lost research or teaching posts.

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