China continued its Christmas jailings of democracy activists on Monday by sentencing Chen Xi, another veteran Tiananmen Square protester to prison for a decade.
Chen Xi, 45, was found guilty of “inciting subversion” after he wrote a series of articles criticising the Communist-led government for several websites.
He was also “deprived of his political rights” for three years during the two-and-a-half hour court hearing in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province in south west China.
His sentence mirrors the similar “show trial” of Chen Wei, another veteran activist who was imprisoned last week for nine years after being found guilty of the same crime – subverting state power.
Jailing activists at Christmas is becoming an annual routine by China as they attempt to escape Western spotlight as it shuts down for the holiday period.
“Chinese authorities seem to have calculated that they would evade international scrutiny due to the Christmas holiday, so they have handed out one after another harsh sentences around this time to lesser known activists like Chen Xi and Chen Wei,” said Renee Xia, international director of the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Defenders.
Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was sentenced during Christmas 2009, as was Gao Zhisheng, who was returned to prison earlier this month after enduring three years of forced disappearances, during which his whereabouts was often unknown.
Whether such a calculated calendar court scheduling is being deployed is open for debate.
But what is becoming increasingly clear is the stark warning being sent to other activists by a nervous Beijing leadership which has been watching the Arab Spring uprisings with increased alarm that it might spread.
The growing political unrest and call for democracy erupted in the fishing village of Wukan earlier this month.
“Severe punishment is the Chinese government’s clear choice of response to spreading protests at home and in many parts of the world: it is determined to ‘kill the chicken in order to frighten the monkeys’,” said Ms Xia.
During Mr Chen’s trial, his lawyer Sun Guangquan was repeatedly interrupted by the judge during the defence’s argument.
Chen Xi was not allowed to read out his final statement but managed to tell the court he was innocent.
Like Chen Wei, who was jailed on Friday, Chen Xi said China’s notoriously rigged legal system meant an appeal was pointless.
Both men are veterans of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protest which was brutally put down by the government which sent in PLA troops and tanks, with the number killed still unknown.
And both have been jailed before.
Chen Xi was imprisoned in 1989 for three years for participating in the pro-democracy movement and was imprisoned again in 1996 for 10 years for “organising and leading a counter-revolutionary group”.
He was released in 2005 but again seized and arrested for “inciting subversion” on November 29 this year.
He is a member of the Guizhou Human Rights Forum which was deemed an “illegal organisation” on December 5 – days prior to the Human Rights Day on December 10.
His wife, Zhang Qunxuan, echoed those of Chen Wei’s partner, with both claiming their husbands’ trails were merely “performances”, with the verdicts and sentencing predetermined on strict orders sent direct from Beijing.
“Chen Xi told the court it did not take into consideration the things he has written as a whole, and has interpreted his words out of context. But they have power and they don’t listen,” she said.