Chen Wei jailed in China for 'subversive' writing

Chen Wei (pic: Chinese Human Rights Defenders) Mr Chen is a veteran pro-democracy campaigner

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Chinese writer Chen Wei has been sentenced to nine years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power".

Mr Chen published several essays online calling for freedom of speech and reform of China's one-party system.

He was among hundreds of dissidents detained earlier this year after online calls for protests in China inspired by the uprisings in the Middle East.

He told the court he was not guilty and that "democracy will prevail" in China, say reports.

Mr Chen has always insisted he was simply expressing his opinions as allowed under the Chinese constitution.

His wife told the BBC the trial had been "a performance" and that the verdict had been decided before it began.

The indictment against Mr Chen listed several essays he wrote for foreign websites on topics including pieces which criticised the political system in China and praised the growth of civil society.

'Patriotic man'

The trial in Suining was held behind closed doors and lasted only two hours. In addition to the jail sentence, Mr Chen had his political rights taken away for a further two years. It is believed to be one of the harshest sentences imposed on those involved in the so-called Jasmine Revolution - the attempt to replicate the Arab Spring uprising in China.

Analysis

The nine-year sentence given to Chen Wei is significant and harsh. It will certainly be seen as an attempt by the authorities to intimidate other dissidents thinking about speaking out.

Chen Wei is well known within intellectual circles as a fierce critic of the government. He's called repeatedly for democracy and freedom of speech, and he writes essays which he publishes online. That's why he's been convicted, according to the authorities.

Chen Wei gathered a bit of a following and as soon as the authorities see someone who has a following then they do move to stamp down on that kind of dissent.

Mr Chen's lawyer, Zheng Jianwei, said that after the verdict was announced, Mr Chen told the court: "Dictatorship will fail, democracy will prevail."

His wife, Wang Xiaoyan, told the BBC she was "very unhappy" with the verdict.

"I think today's trial is just a show. It's a performance. The verdict had been decided in advance. They don't allow people to speak. There is no freedom of speech."

She said his essays had been misinterpreted their meaning distorted, and he had done nothing to incite subversion.

"He is a very patriotic man. He did criticise the Communist Party, but that's stating the facts. That is not subversion."

Mrs Wang, who was present in court, said her husband had decided not to launch an appeal, and that she respected his decision.

"He said the verdict would be decided in advance and there is no point appealing. He wants to finish serving the terms quickly and come home quickly," she said.

"We have a daughter who is not even 10 years old. I need to slowly explain to my daughter why her father is in jail."

Human rights observers at the court for the trial said there were a large police presence and that two activists had been questioned and taken away.

Campaign group Human Rights in China (HRC) said Mrs Wang and other members of Mr Chen's family have faced harassment from the police during his detention, and that he had only been permitted to meet his lawyers twice since he was detained.

Defence lawyers had been told to keep their comments brief in the courtroom, said the group, in a sign they wanted the trial to be over quickly.

Mr Chen is a veteran pro-democracy campaigner, having been jailed for his part in the student protest in 1989 which were crushed in Tiananmen Square.

He is also a signatory of Charter 08 - a manifesto for democratic reform that was co-written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Mr Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for his role in producing the document, a sentence which has been widely criticised by governments and rights groups around the world.

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