Will the West's criticism of China for jailing top dissident backfire?
The Chrismas Day sentencing of literary critic Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison has drawn unusually strong criticism from Western governments, but some experts say that may only result in China taking a harder line.
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Beijing blocks Twitter
Liu's verdict triggered thousands of distraught messages of support on Twitter, with users employing proxy servers to access the microblogging site blocked in China by authorities. One post revealed judge Jia's office telephone number and curriculum vitae.
In efforts to stem widespread discussion of the politically sensitive case, government censors clamped down on the Internet over the weekend. The term "11 years" typed into top Chinese search engine Baidu turned up a message that said results were "temporarily unavailable in accordance with relevant laws."
Brief news items by the state-controlled press were scrubbed from the Internet by Friday afternoon. One English-language story remained accessible over the weekend, citing a court statement saying Liu's litigation rights had been "fully protected."
Liu, whom supporters and colleagues frequently describe as even-tempered, will appeal the court's sentence – the harshest yet for "incitement to subvert the state," a charge first used in 1997.
"The court didn't take our opinion into consideration. [Liu Xiaobo] is going to appeal," Liu's lawyer Shang Baojun told The Monitor by telephone on Friday.
In major cases such as these, a panel of three judges typically decides its verdict after consultation outside the court with a committee of party cadres unknown to the defendant and his lawyers, according to Joshua Rosenzweig of the Dui Hua Foundation, a non-profit human rights group. Liu's sentencing followed a trial lasting three hours on Dec. 23.
"The wheels of justice moved too quickly, which leads us to believe that in the case of somebody such as Liu Xiaobo, who has been so vocal in his opposition, it was clear from the start that the government knew what it wanted to do," Mr. Rosenzweig said Friday by telephone from Hong Kong.
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Many say Liu's sentencing on Christmas Day was a was a ploy to avoid international reaction while diplomats, activists, and media were on holiday.
Previously, Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, a Christian, was convicted of "subversion" three days before Christmas in 2006. Five days after Christmas 2007, AIDS-activist Hu Jia was arrested for "subverting state authority."
Only a few Chinese dissidents previously drew such harsh sentences for this particular "subversion" charge, according to Dui Hua records. They include Li Wangyang, who got 10 years in Hunan in Sept. 2001; and Wang Xiaoning, who went to jail in Beijing for 10 years in September 2003.
Liu has 10 days to appeal to three new judges at the Beijing Municipal Higher People's Court. "They'll ask if there was sufficient evidence, if mistakes were made, and if the sentence was appropriate, but the appeal does not need a hearing," Rosenzweig said. "If there's no hearing, then there's no audience for the next step."