Liu is a central figure in China's pro-democracy movementImage: AP
December 25, 2009
Western nations and human rights groups have reacted with concern to the sentencing of Liu Xiaobo by a Beijing court to 11 years' imprisonment for subversion. Liu is a leading pro-democracy campaigner in China.
China's most prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo, has been sentenced by a Beijing court to 11 years in prison for "incitement to subvert state power." The verdict has been met with sharp criticism by rights groups and the international community.
Sweden, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, condemned the decision, saying it raised concerns about freedom of speech and right to a fair trial in China.
"The Presidency of the European Union is deeply concerned by the disproportionate sentence against the prominent human rights defender Liu Xiaobo." it said in a statement.
The German government also strongly criticized the verdict.
"Despite the great progress in other areas in the expression of views, I regret that the Chinese government still massively restricts press freedom." said Chancellor Angela Merkel in a statement.
A US diplomat commented after the verdict that Washington would "continue to call on the government of China to release (Liu) immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views in favor of universally recognized fundamental freedoms."
Human rights groups said the sentence was one of the longest a Chinese court has given on the subversion charge.
"Since 2003, China has sentenced more than 35 people using the vague charge of 'inciting subversion of state power' to prison terms ranging from 1.5 to 11 years," said Amnesty International in a statement.
"Among those, Liu Xiaobo's sentence is the longest to have been handed down since 2003, according to Amnesty International's records."
Human Rights Watch meanwhile called the sentence a "travesty of justice."
In Hong Kong, several people were injured in protests that broke out following Liu's sentencing, reported German news agency dpa.
Guilty for speaking freely
Liu, 53, was a main author of the "Charter 08" manifesto which called for sweeping political reforms in China. The Beijing court ruled Liu was guilty for his involvement in the manifesto and for publishing online essays critical of the ruling Communist Party.
Liu was not allowed to respond to the court's decision, though his wife, Liu Xia, said she "felt calm when the judge read out the sentence, because all signs were they wanted to hand out a long sentence." Liu's wife was allowed into the courtroom to hear the verdict being delivered, but she was prohibited from entering during the actual trial.
"Later we were allowed 10 minutes together and he told me he would appeal, even if the chances of success were low," she added.
Western diplomats from more than a dozen countries and journalists were also excluded from the court proceedings.
Liu had already served a prison sentence over his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.
Beijing rejects criticism
In the weeks leading up to the trial, the European Union and the US had called on China to unconditionally release Liu and "end the harassment and detention" of fellow signatories of the "Charter 08" manifesto.
Beijing reacted angrily to those calls, referring to the EU and US statements as "unacceptable" and representing interference in China's internal affairs.
"China is a country ruled by law," a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry had responded. "The fundamental rights of Chinese citizens are guaranteed by the law."
The spokesperson said China's courts acted "independently" and other nations have "no right to interfere."