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China jails citizen activists up to 6 and a half years

BEIJING -- A court in eastern China on Thursday sentenced to up to 6.5 years in prison three activists who were part of a nascent civil rights movement that has urged government officials to publicly disclose their assets.

The sentences, decried by other dissidents as excessively heavy, reflect the increasingly hard line that China's Communist Party has taken against political dissent, no matter how peacefully expressed or loosely organized. Party leaders have been wary of any independent social force with the potential to threaten the party's rule by mobilizing groups of people and have sought to quash the loosely knit New Citizens Movement that the three activists were part of.

The district court in the city of Xinyu sentenced labor activists Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping to 6.5 years' imprisonment each while another activist, Li Sihua, was given three years, said Liu's daughter Liao Minyue.

“We don't recognize the legitimacy of this ruling,” Liao said. “I don't think these actions will stop people from pursuing freedom, instead, they must know that the more they oppress, the more there will be resistance.”

The sentences deal another blow to China's beleaguered activist community, following a comprehensive clampdown in recent months on dissidents in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square military suppression of pro-democracy protests.

The three activists, who were arrested last year, were convicted of “creating a disturbance,” a vaguely defined offense that has been increasingly used to lock up activists. In this instance, the charge stems from a photo that circulated online of them gathering privately and holding signs calling for the release of other activists who were part of the campaign to demand greater transparency.

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In this Oct. 28, 2013 photo, a Chinese police officer reaches out toward a journalist outside the courthouse where a trial of Chinese activists from a group that urges fellow citizens to embrace their constitutional rights is underway in Xinyu city in eastern China's Jiangxi province.

(AP)

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