Christian political dissident Liu Xianbin received a ten year prison sentence Friday after being tried for treason in The People’s Court of Suining in China’s south-central province of Sichuan.
Liu was also ordered not to accept interviews, publish writings and make speeches within a period of two years and four months.
His sentence comes a month after an unknown blogger called for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China’s major cities, an apparent call to replicate the popular uprisings that toppled Tunisia’s dictator.
This has led some human rights observers to question whether Liu’s sentence, which is harsh even by Chinese standards, resulted from the fallout over the aborted uprising in February.
“Like what happened in Egypt, Yemen and Libya, China’s totalitarian government recently has acted with increasingly blunt disregard for its own citizens’ basic rights,” said Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid Association . “This should further alarm the free world and vividly demonstrates how dire the consequences of appeasement and inaction are.”
Only a mere handful of people heeded the call for the uprising, however, and the protest only occurred at Beijing's affluent Wafujing shopping district. Protesters were promptly arrested by hundreds of officers gathered there. Beijing does not tolerate mass political gatherings and has restricted information about the grievances that contributed to the recent unrest in the Middle East from reaching its citizens.
Liu was arrested almost a year ago on charges of “inciting subversion” against “state power” after he posted a series of internet articles demanding political reform.
In February 2010, Liu had written that "protests are key to democratic movements [because] they are an inevitable stage of the evolution of a democratic society.”
Amongst grievances the dissident listed included the 2008 arrest of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel laureate best known for co-authoring the Charter 08 manifesto. Charter 08, modeled after the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was initially signed by more than 350 intellectuals including Liu Xianbin.
Since 2008, more than 10,000 people have signed the charter within and beyond China. Among a list of rights demanded in the charter included freedom of expression, assembly and religion.
Liu Xianbin, 42, has a long history of upsetting China’s communist government.
When he was a university student, Liu joined the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, which remains the largest mass protest after China’s communist revolution succeeded in 1949.
Hundreds if not thousands of people, including university students, were gunned down in the subsequent government crackdown. Every year in the weeks leading to the massacre's anniversary, the government makes mass arrests of dissidents in an apparent show of force to discourage protest.
In 1991, Liu was arrested by police and detained in Beijing’s notorious Qincheng prison, which is the state’s favorite location for holding political prisoners. The following year, a judge sentenced Liu to two-and-half years in prison. He was released in October 1993 after serving his full sentence.
Six years later, Liu was again imprisoned, but this time serving a 13-year sentence. He was released for good behavior in 2008, but was again arrested two years later.
It is unclear when Liu will be released after receiving his latest prison sentence.