BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese court sentenced three political activists to jail on Friday (Nov 27) for helping to organise small-scale protests against censorship, a lawyer involved said, the latest example of a deepening government crackdown on dissent.
Guo Feixiong, Liu Yuandong and Sun Desheng were sentenced to six, three and two and a half years respectively for their attempts to raise awareness of press freedom and human rights, Guo's lawyer Zhang Lei told AFP.
The sentence was announced almost a year to the day after Guo and Sun went on trial in the southern city of Guangzhou for the crime of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order", a charge often used to jail protesters. Liu's trial took place earlier in Jan 2014.
During sentencing Friday (Nov 27), the judge announced that Guo had also been charged with the additional crime of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", often used as a catch-all for jailing political dissidents.
The judge's action, Zhang said, was a "rarity in the history of human justice. We are beyond outrage".
Guo, a well-known legal consultant based in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, has faced police harassment and numerous beatings as a result of his advocacy for the rights of ordinary citizens.
He is well known for helping residents of a southern Chinese village come together in 2006 against a local Communist Party boss who they accused of illegally selling their land to enrich himself.
Guo was later sentenced to five years in prison for "running an illegal business", charges his supporters dismissed as trumped up and politically motivated.
After his release in 2011, he called for officials to disclose their assets and in Jan 2013 helped organise protests supporting the outspoken newspaper Southern Weekly after its new year editorial was censored. He was detained again that August and has been held since.
As many as 200 hundred police, including plain clothes officers, guarded the court house Friday morning as sentencing began, according to comments posted on Twitter, suggesting the government's high level of concern about the case's sensitivity.
Human rights campaigners expressed outrage over the sentences.
They are "a pure travesty of justice", Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
"Fighting against corruption and for human rights are not crimes."