China rights activist sentenced to jail

By ANITA CHANG, Associated Press Writer Mon Mar 24, 10:54 AM ET

BEIJING - A Chinese activist who had petitioned for land rights was sentenced Monday to five years in prison and then shocked with electric batons when police scuffled with his family, his lawyer said.

Yang Chunlin had gathered more than 10,000 signatures for an open letter titled "We want human rights, not the Olympics." Most of the signatures came from farmers demanding redress for land taken from them by officials for development.

Yang, a former factory worker, was convicted of subverting the power of the state, a charge that authorities commonly use to clamp down on dissidents.

Family members tried to talk to Yang as he was escorted from the courtroom, but police pushed his son to the ground, his lawyer, Li Fangping, said. When Yang tried to intervene, he was repeatedly shocked with electric batons, the lawyer said.

"Since we haven't seen him, we don't know how he's doing," Li said.

Yang's sentencing came as China tries to stifle activists whose criticisms might tarnish the Beijing Olympics, which begin Aug. 8.

The country's leaders want to use the high-profile event to showcase that China is modern and stable. But the games are shaping up to be the most politicized in decades, with activists denouncing Beijing's treatment of Tibetans and its diplomatic policies in Sudan.

Last month, a Chinese court sentenced democracy activist Lu Gengsong to four years in prison for "inciting to subvert state power." Another dissident, Hu Jia, was tried on the same charge last week but has not yet been sentenced.

The Jiamusi City Intermediate People's Court in northeast China's Heilongjiang province handed down Yang's five-year sentence Monday afternoon, court clerk Nie Lei said. Yang can appeal, he added.

Yang, 54, has maintained his innocence and called the legal proceedings against him illegal because freedom of speech is supposed to be guaranteed in China, his lawyer said.

"But he's said before that he would not appeal because he has lost confidence in China's judicial system," Li said.

To rally support, Yang had posted his letter on the Internet. It was not clear for whom the letter was intended.

He was detained in July in Heilongjiang and formally arrested a month later. His sister said in October that during his detention Yang was tortured, including having his arms and legs stretched and chained to the corners of an iron bed.

Property disputes and illegal land grabs have accelerated as China's economy expands at double-digit rates and farmland is gobbled up for industrial parks and skyscrapers. Government officials often have sided with developers, touching off riots and protests.