Chinese rights activist sentenced to five years

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BEIJING, Nov 14 (Reuters) A Chinese human rights activist was sentenced to five years in prison today for illegal business activities, in a trial a rights group said was politically motivated and marked by procedural irregularities.

Guo Feixiong was convicted in the southern city of Guangzhou, and also fined 5,400 dollars, his lawyer and the New York-based group Human Rights in China said.

Guo, also known as Yang Maodong, has been involved in publicising rural protests in the southern province of Guangdong, and has provided legal advice to disgruntled farmers.

In one case, he helped residents of the Guangdong village of Tashi vote out their elected chief over allegations of corruption, for which he was detained for three months in 2005.

''We think the conviction is incorrect, as we insisted in the defence,'' his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters.

''We will advise Guo Feixiong to appeal against the sentence, because he has always maintained his innocence.'' The charge could have carried a sentence of up to 15 years, Mo said.

Guo was arrested last year in connection with a book he edited about a political scandal in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

In June, his wife wrote a letter to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture in which she accused Guo's interrogators of torturing him to extract a confession.

Guo himself staged a hunger strike for a total of 40 days in protest against his treatment. Human Rights in China said tactics used by police have included shackling his arms and legs to a bed for weeks at a time and extended periods of sleep deprivation.

''The imposition of this heavy sentence for what appears to be a politically motivated prosecution has a chilling effect on other rights defenders and undermines China's efforts to build a rule of law,'' the group's executive director Sharon Hom said in a statement.

''The result following a procedurally flawed process, a year in detention and reports of torture, is particularly ironic in the case of Guo Feixiong, who advocated the use of law to seek justice,'' she said.

Another human rights campaigner has been sentenced to 18 months of ''re-education through labour'' after she organised a petition urging democratic reform, a second overseas group said.

Liu Jie, a former farmer from the country's far northeast, received the sentence for ''disturbing social order'', China Human Rights Defenders said in an email citing Liu's husband.

After battling authorities in Heilongjiang province over her confiscated dairy business, 55-year-old Liu evolved into an unyielding grassroots campaigner among petitioners coming to Beijing with grievances over rights and alleged corruption.

Before the ruling Communist Party's five-yearly congress in October, she helped organise a petition demanding legal rights and democratic reforms. She said the petition collected thousands of signatures.

Liu was detained on Oct. 13, and sentenced by authorities in Heilongjiang. Police there did not respond to telephone calls.

REUTERS SV ND14O6

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