22 September 2016
■ A Chinese rights lawyer has been jailed for 12 years – in a move his supporters say is designed to silence him.
Xia Lin, whose clients include artist Ai Weiwei, was found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $700,000 (£550,000) to pay off gambling debts.
But supporters say he is innocent and that the move is designed to intimidate human rights lawyers.
|Xia Lin was arrested in November 2014
Last year, China detained hundreds of rights lawyers, in what critics described as an organised crackdown.
Many lawyers have since been released – but several remain in detention, with their wives and families denied access to them.
Maya Wang, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the 12 year jail term was likely to send a “chill” through the human rights community.
She told AFP: “The sentence is shocking, not only because of its length, but also because it was handed down to a rights lawyer who has tried to protect himself by deliberately taking a low-profile, technical approach to his work.”
|Xia Lin defended Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (pictured)
Xia Lin is known for defending Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.
He also represented fellow human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was detained after a private seminar discussing the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, while in 2009 he successfully defended a hotel worker who killed a local government official who had tried to rape her.
Xia Lin was arrested in November 2014, as he was preparing to defend Guo Yushan, a rights activist and head of a Chinese think tank.
‘History will not forgive this’: Media roundup by Kerry Allen, BBC Monitoring
|A picture of Xia Lin’s wife crying was shared online
Chinese state media have not reported on the 12-year sentence for Xia Lin, so social media users have mainly been learning of the news via independent publications, or word of mouth.
Luo Changping, a journalist at the independent Caijing magazine, posted a picture of Lin Ru, Xia Lin’s wife, crying in someone’s arms.
The image has been shared widely, with hundreds of sympathetic, yet resigned comments.
Many social media users refused to accept the verdict – but also acknowledged that the likelihood of a successful appeal was low.
User Zhanzhan080808 wrote: “Xia Lin is innocent”, while user Liu Suli said: “I curse this court, and those behind it and their strength. History will not forgive this trial.”
|Lin Ru was surrounded by police officers outside the court
The trial against Mr Xia opened in June this year.
He was originally charged with fraudulently obtaining 10m yuan ($1.5m; £1.1m), but his lawyer Dong Xikui said the court eventually accepted a lower figure of 4.8m yuan.
However, friends say they loaned the lawyer the money willingly.
Mr Xia’s wife, Lin Ru, said: “I firmly believe that my husband is innocent. So we need to appeal.”
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders group called the sentence a “severe retaliation against a human rights advocate who defended the rule of law”.
There was no immediate comment from the court.