BEIJING — Veteran Chinese rights activist and doctor Wang Lihong was sentenced Friday to nine months in jail for “creating a disturbance,” as part of what campaigners say is a broad crackdown on dissent.The 55-year-old, a veteran of China’s 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, plans to appeal the sentence in the next 10 days, her lawyer Han Yicun told AFP.
Wang was arrested in April, after online calls for Arab Spring-style protests that spooked authorities, prompting a widespread clampdown on dissent.
Rights groups say her detention was linked to her support for three activists in southeast China’s Fujian province who called online for Chinese citizens to join the planned protests, which never materialized.
She has been in detention for nearly six months already, and under Chinese law only has a little more than three months left to complete her sentence, Han said.
He said Wang, who went on trial last month, was in good spirits and appeared calm when the verdict was announced in a Beijing district court in the presence of her son, brother and sister.
The sentence is light compared with the five-year maximum penalty that could have stemmed from the charge — one that has frequently been used in recent years to silence anti-government protesters.
Commenting on the case, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China had delivered a verdict “in accordance with our laws.”
Wang has a number of prominent supporters, including artist and activist Ai Weiwei. In early August, Ai — recently released from detention himself — posted a message on his widely followed microblog on her behalf.
“If you don’t speak out for Wang Lihong, you are not just a person who will not stand up for fairness and justice, you do not have self-respect,” he wrote.
Advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said Zhao Lianhai, an activist who helped bring to light a tainted milk scandal in 2008, was one of several supporters not allowed to leave his home to attend Wang’s sentencing.
“Sending Wang Lihong to prison suggests that the Chinese government feels quite confident to go after the less-known activists, to whom the international community has paid little attention,” the CHRD said in a statement.
The group said more than 200 supporters, journalists and diplomats gathered outside the courthouse to wait for the verdict Friday, and a large number of uniformed and plainclothes police were also present.
But only Wang’s family and lawyers were allowed to attend the hearing.