China jails dissident Hu Jia for three and a half years

(dpa) - Well-known Chinese dissident Hu Jia was sentenced on Thursday to three and a half years for subversion for criticising the ruling Communist Party, his lawyer told reporters outside the court.

The Beijing Number One Intermediate People's Court found Hu, 34, guilty of "inciting subversion of state power," lawyer Li Fangping said.

The human rights activist argued he was not guilty at a closed sentencing session on Wednesday, following his trial on March 18.

Li said he had feared a higher sentence of five years and was not clear why a lighter one was passed.

The government said Hu had "libelled the Chinese political and social systems, and instigated subversion of the state, which is a crime under Chinese law."

"Considering Hu's confession of crime and acceptance of punishment, the court decided the ruling with leniency and announced a less harsh prison sentence," the official Xinhua news agency said.

Prosecutors had told the court that Hu "published articles on overseas-run websites, made comments in interviews with foreign media, and repeatedly instigated other people to subvert the Chinese political and socialist systems."

In two articles covering China's development of democracy, Hu had "spread malicious rumours... in an attempt to subvert the state's political and socialist systems," the agency quoted the court verdict as saying.

Hu was detained December 27 but had spent most of the previous two years under house arrest or other forms of detention.

During his house arrest, Hu continued to post details of human rights abuses on the internet and frequently spoke to foreign journalists about the cases.

Hu is best known for his advocacy for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS in China, winning several international awards.

Reacting to the sentence on Thursday, the group China Human Rights Defenders said the case was a "classic case of political persecution" and that Hu's conviction was linked to his "dissent from the government's handling of the Olympics."

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