BEIJING • A Chinese Internet pioneer who once won Communist Party praise for using the Web to combat social ills has been sentenced to 12 years in prison - a further sign that the window for independent social activism in China has all but closed.
Huang Qi, 56, who spent nearly 20 years exposing local government malfeasance and brutality, and has already served eight years in prison, was found guilty by a court in south-western China on Monday of "deliberately disclosing state secrets" and "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities", according to the court statement.
He was also deprived of political rights for four years and fined 20,000 yuan (S$3,975).
It was one of the longest sentences given to a rights advocate in recent years and followed calls for clemency by human rights groups, foreign governments and the United Nations.
In the light of Huang's chronic bad health, including high blood pressure as well as kidney and heart problems, the non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders called the 12-year term "equivalent to a death sentence".
Huang was most recently arrested in 2016 for "inciting subversion of state power", which often carries a prison term of up to 10 years.
The more serious charge of divulging state secrets, and its longer sentence, may have stemmed from his unwillingness to cooperate or confess, according to Mr Patrick Poon of Amnesty International.
During a secret trial in January, Huang reportedly denied all wrongdoing and criticised the government, according to an associate who asked to remain anonymous.
"The authorities are using his case to scare other human rights defenders who do similar work," said Mr Poon. "Due to his popular website and broad network of volunteers and grassroots activists, his case is highly sensitive."
Huang is one of several activists targeted for running human rights websites. Zhen Jianghua, who ran the Human Rights Campaign in China, was sentenced to two years' jail last December, while Liu Feiyue received five years in January for running the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch.
NEW YORK TIMES