BEIJING A Chinese court has sentenced a writer to 10 years in prison on subversion charges for writing essays that urged people to defend their rights, a relative said, the third person to be sentenced on such charges in less than a month.
The court in Wuhan in central China tried Li Tie in April last year but only declared him guilty on Tuesday of "subversion of state power ," the relative , who declined to be named for fear of retribution, told Reuters by telephone.
The charge is more serious than the one of incitement, often used against critics of the ruling Communist Party.
"He said in court: 'I'm not guilty. When have I subverted state power?'" the relative said.
"The state has made this conclusion against him," the relative said. "You can't understand it. Under these circumstances, you're helpless. But this is our reality. He sat in front of the computer subverting state power.'"
Rights activists say the harsh sentences are worrying signs that the government's crackdown on dissidents is intensifying, ahead of the one-year anniversary of online calls for the Arab-inspired "Jasmine Revolution" rallies and before a tricky leadership transition later in the year.
Calls to the Wuhan Intermediate People's court about Li's case were unanswered.
Li, 52, was convicted for writing 13 essays that called for defending "people's rights" that he published in newspapers overseas and on the Internet, said the relative. One of the essays was entitled "Human Beings' Dignity is equivalent to heaven," the source said.
"He worshipped Chairman Mao and would use Mao Zedong's Thought in his essays," the source said, referring to the communist theory espoused by China's former paramount leader. "He always used to tell me: 'I'm using the language of the Communist Party, so why are they after me?'" the relative said.
The sentence was meted out in half an hour, he added, noting the court would not allow Li's lawyer to represent him and appointed another lawyer to do so. Li was allowed to meet only with his mother and daughter.
Li was initially detained by the Wuhan public security bureau on last September on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power," his relative said.
When the Wuhan court issued a formal notice on Li's arrest a month later, the charge had been changed to "subversion of state power," he said. The relative said the court did not give a reason for the more serious charge.
Defendants facing subversion charges in China's party-run courts are almost never acquitted.
Communist Party chiefs are preparing for a leadership handover late next year, when the party's long-standing focus on fending off political challenges is likely to intensify.
The latest sentence comes just three weeks after another dissident, Chen Xi, was sentenced by a court in Guiyang in southwest China to 10 years in jail for inciting subversion.
In December, another dissident -- Chen Wei from Sichuan province in southwest China -- was jailed for nine years on similar charges of "inciting subversion".
During the past decade, Li has written many online articles promoting democracy, constitutional government, and direct local elections, according to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Chinese authorities indicted veteran dissident Zhu Yufu on subversion charges for writing a poem urging people to gather to defend their freedoms, his lawyer said on Tuesday,
"What the activists have in common is their long-term unwavered commitment to democracy," said Songlian Wang, research coordinator for the rights group.
"By doling harsh sentences against them, the Chinese government is sending a clear message in response to the Arab Spring, it is drawing a red line --advocate democratization and you'd be given a decade in prison."
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani)