In a rare display of official tolerance, outspoken Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (
Gao, 42, was given a five-year reprieve, Xinhua news agency said yesterday, quoting sources with a local court. That meant he does not have to serve his sentence unless he commits another crime over the next five years.
Gao has legally represented religious activists, members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and farmers with land disputes.
It was unclear why he was given a relatively lenient sentence, coming on the heels of a 20-year jail term for sociologist Lu Jianhua (
But he was also deprived of his political rights for one year, which would prevent him from speaking to reporters and might mean he could be kept under house arrest or surveillance.
Gao was accused of posting nine "seditious articles," on overseas Web sites.
China secretly tried Gao this month on a charge of inciting subversion of state power, drawing condemnation from dissidents.
The hearing excluded Gao's chosen lawyers, who have not been allowed to visit him.
Gao is one of several activists held or jailed in a crackdown on campaigners seeking to use legal activism to expand citizens' rights. Last February he started a "relay style" hunger strike to protest what he said was police brutality against activists. Dissidents across China and around the world participated in the hunger strike.
Gao's case comes amid a crackdown on Chinese lawyers who represent people with grievances against the government over corruption, seizures of farmland and other abuses. Lawyers have been detained and harassed, and some have been stripped of their licenses.
The Chinese government tightened restrictions on lawyers this year in an apparent effort to contain a surge in politically sensitive cases. The new restrictions require lawyers to follow government guidance in handling cases, to avoid talking to foreign reporters and to discourage clients from protesting.
His wife and other relatives have faced police harassment and house arrest.
"As a friend, I'm happy he can go home back to his wife and children," fellow activist Hu Jia (
"This is the result of the endeavors of the international community and activists. This is our first victory," Hu said. "Gao Zhisheng is innocent and the case itself is an infringement of his human rights."
Meanwhile, a Chinese vice admiral has been jailed for life on a charge of embezzlement, a Beijing-funded Hong Kong newspaper reported yesterday.
Originally it was reported that Wang Shouye (
A Beijing military court convicted and sentenced Wang on Dec. 14, the Wen Wei Po newspaper said, quoting unidentified sources.