BEIJING The United States and the European Union decried China's controls on political expression on Thursday after a Beijing appeals court upheld an 11-year prison sentence meted out to prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo.
The Beijing High Court told Liu that his appeal against the conviction for "inciting subversion of state power", handed down on Christmas Day, would not be overturned or shortened, his lawyer Shang Baojun told Reuters.
"He wasn't allowed to speak during the hearing, but when he was being taken out at the end he yelled, 'I'm innocent'," said Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who attended the hearing.
"We knew this would be the decision," she told Reuters.
While the Communist-controlled judiciary was unlikely to reject the sentence for the country's most prominent dissident, U.S. and EU diplomats gathered outside the court swiftly condemned the decision, underscoring tensions over human rights.
"We believe he should not have been sentenced in the first place and he should be released immediately," said Aubrey Carlson, an official from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, reading a statement from the ambassador, Jon Huntsman.
A cordon of police, some using video cameras, watched over the reporters and diplomats outside the courthouse.
China should "respect the right of all citizens to peacefully express their political views", Carlson said, adding that the Obama administration had raised Liu's case at "high levels" in Beijing and Washington.
China has shown little patience with Western calls for it to ease curbs on citizens' political activities, and the issue has joined Internet controls, U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan and trade imbalances among the strains on Beijing's dealings with Washington and Brussels.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu repeated what has become Beijing's standard line that China is a country of rule of law which does not appreciate outside interference in its "internal affairs", including legal cases.
"China has no 'dissidents'," Ma told a regular news briefing, using the English word. "We only act in accordance with the law. There is only the difference between criminals and those who are not criminals."
Washington has pressed Beijing on Internet freedom, a growing irritant in ties after search giant Google threatened to pull out of China over censorship and hacking attacks.
"The case is the third this week which has seen the (Chinese) authorities crack down on activists," Roseann Rife, of Amnesty International, said in a emailed statement about Liu's case.
"The message is clear, if you criticise the system outside the parameters set by the authorities or independently try to organise civil society, you will be stopped."
Liu, 54, was convicted of subversion for helping organise the "Charter 08" manifesto, which called for sweeping political reforms. He was detained shortly before it was released online in December 2008, and tried a year later.
Before that, he was prominent in student-led pro-democracy protests centred on Beijing's Tiananmen Square that were crushed by troops on June 4, 1989.
"The EU calls on the Chinese government unconditionally to release Mr Liu and to end the harassment and detention of other signatories of Charter 08," Simon Sharpe, an official with the EU delegation in Beijing, told reporters outside the courthouse.
China's Foreign Ministry has warned against giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu, after he was nominated by the U.S. chapter of rights group International Pen.
Tan Zuoren, an activist who sought to document shoddy school buildings blamed for schoolchildren's deaths in China's devastating 2008 earthquake, was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
This month, a court in southwest China dismissed an appeal against a three-year sentence on Huang Qi, another dissident who championed parents whose children died in the quake.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)