Prominent Chinese Rights Activist Sentenced to Jail

A Chinese court ruled Thursday that the writings and comments of one of the most prominent human rights activists in China amounted to inciting subversion, his lawyer said.

Hu Jia, a critic of the Chinese Communist government and its human rights violations, was arrested at his home in Beijing in December by Chinese police and sentenced Thursday to three and a half years in prison.

Although his lawyer, Li Fangping, noted the court showed leniency when they gave him less than the maximum five-year term, Li said the sentence also forbids Hu from issuing any public political statements for one year after his release from prison.

"Three and a half years is still unacceptable to us," Li told reporters outside the courthouse, according to the New York Times. "There is a major disagreement between prosecutors and the defense over punishing someone for making peaceful speech. We still believe the charge does not stand."

The sentence sparked international condemnation and further damaged China's image as an emerging power worthy of respect. China in recent weeks has been lambasted for its violent crackdown on anti-China demonstrators in Tibet.

"Mr. Hu has consistently worked within China's legal system to protect the rights of his fellow citizens," said Diane Sovereign, a spokeswoman for the United States embassy in Beijing, to the New York Times. Hu's work mainly focuses on the issues of democracy, environmental protection, and HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

"These types of activities support China's efforts to institute the rule of law and should be applauded, not suppressed or punished," added Sovereign, who described the U.S. government's response to the verdict as "dismayed."

The European Union has also criticized the subversion charge and called for Hu's release.

China's jailing of the activist and other dissidents is thought to be an effort to silent dissidents ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.

Among their many rebukes, human rights groups have also strongly criticized China for its persecution of house church leaders and its treatment of North Korean refugees. Several Christian human rights groups have accused the Chinese government of conducting a new persecution strategy aimed at house church leaders instead of regular members to suppress unregistered church activities ahead of the Olympics.

In 2007, the incidents of Christian persecution in China were higher than in 2006, according to the annual report by China Aid Association.

In December, 270 Protestant house church pastors were arrested during a Bible study.

According to reports, rights activist Hu has 10 days to decide if he will appeal Thursday's verdict. The court has allowed Hu, who has Hepatitis B and a deteriorating liver condition, to apply for medical parole if he does not appeal.

Meanwhile, Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, also a well-known rights activist, is under house arrest with their infant daughter in an apartment outside of Beijing.