Cao Haibo, a Chinese internet cafe worker who posted pro-democracy articles online, has been sentenced to eight years in prison, his lawyer says.
A court in the south-western city of Kunming jailed 27-year-old Cao Haibo for “subversion of state power”, said his lawyer, Ma Xiaopeng.
Cao Haibo had set-up web chat groups on social issues, said a US-based rights group.
The case comes shortly before China’s once-a-decade power handover at this month’s Communist Party congress.
In the run-up to the opening of the congress on 8th of November, authorities have clamped down on the work of political activists and dissidents in China, analysts say.
Cao Haibo was detained at his home in Yancheng in October last year after he set up a website and online chat groups advocating democracy and constitutional government, said Human Rights in China.
His trial was held in secret in May because the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court said it involved state secrets, his wife, Zhang Nian, was quoted as saying.
Cao Haibo was detained at his home in Yancheng in October last year after he set up a website and online chat groups advocating democracy and constitutional government
Zhang Nian said the court had presented evidence that her husband had “created an online discussion group, and published articles on foreign websites”.
She added that the trial had not been held in open and told the Associated Press that she was urging him to appeal.
“All he did was express his opinions on the internet. I think it is excessive of the court to give him such a harsh sentence for that,” she said.
Kunming Intermediate Court has so far not commented on the case.
Cuba has announced it is removing the need for its citizens to obtain exit permits before travelling abroad.
State media said the move, to come into effect on 14 January next year, would “update” migration laws to reflect current and future circumstances.
Cubans currently have to go through a lengthy and expensive process to obtain a permit and dissidents are often denied one, correspondents say.
The move is the latest in a series of reforms under President Raul Castro.
Cubans who have permanent residency on the island will also be allowed to stay abroad for up to 24 months, instead of the current 11, without having to return to renew paperwork.
The exit permit process is hated by most Cubans so this reform, which was much anticipated, will be widely welcomed.
Cuba previously saw people attempting to leave the country as traitors or enemies of the revolution, says our correspondent, but official recognition is growing that many Cubans want to leave for economic reasons and that the country can benefit from the cash and knowledge they bring back with them.
Now all that Cubans will need to leave is a valid passport and a visa.
However, the new law still argues for the need to protect Cuba’s “human capital”, so highly-qualified professionals like doctors, will continue to face extra hurdles to travel.
Government critics are also likely to experience further difficulties, as passport updates can be denied for “reasons of public interest defined by the authorities”.
The restrictions have failed to prevent hundreds of thousands of Cubans emigrating illegally in the past few decades, many of them to the US where they have formed a strongly anti-Havana diaspora.
The US grants automatic residency to anyone who reaches it from Cuba.
For nearly half a century, Cuba was run as a command economy, with almost all activity controlled by the state.
But under President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, it has gradually eased restrictions in many areas of politics, business and society.
The latest reform comes on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war as the US and the Soviet Union nearly went to war over Soviet missiles placed on the island.
But the crisis was resolved diplomatically when the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a US promise not to invade Cuba.
However the relationship between Cuba and the US remains hostile – they have no diplomatic relations and an American economic blockade of the era is still in effect.
Cuba has struggled economically since the collapse of the Soviet Union and now relies heavily on the support of the left-wing government of Venezuela.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has left the US embassy in Beijing after taking refuge there for a week and Chinese officials have accused the US of breaking the law and demanded an apology.
Chen Guangcheng left the embassy on Wednesday and went from there to hospital for a check-up.
His lawyer said that he was now “free” – while previously he had been under house arrest. However, Chen Guangcheng himself later said his family had been threatened and that they now wanted to leave the country.
Chen Guangcheng is the second Chinese national to seek refuge with US authorities in China in a matter of weeks. The first was former police chief Wang Lijun who briefly fled to the US consulate in Chengdu in February.
There is in fact a long tradition of dissidents seeking sanctuary in embassies, both in China and in other countries.
So is it legal or not?
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has left the US embassy in Beijing after taking refuge there for a week
The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations codified a custom that has been in place for centuries when it established the “rule of inviolability”.
This states that local police and security forces are not permitted to enter, unless they have the express permission of the ambassador – even though the embassy remains the territory of the host nation.
The convention is widely adhered to and is regarded as a basic pre-requisite for diplomatic relations.
“Embassies are privileged areas. The local authorities have no rights to enter,” says Colin Warbrick, a specialist in international law and honorary professor at Birmingham University.
Human rights law provides a further layer of protection, in the form of the European Convention on Human Rights and – in the case of the US – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
This means that the embassy is obliged to consider whether there is a real risk that the person could be killed or seriously injured if they were handed over to the local authorities. And if there is, then they could be held accountable if they give the person up.
How Chen Guangcheng gained entry to the embassy is unknown – whether he walked in by himself or was smuggled in by diplomats past Chinese security guards on the street outside. If he had been a fugitive from justice and had been smuggled in, then the US diplomats would be guilty of breaking Chinese law, Colin Warbrick says.
Diplomats are obliged to comply with local law, he points out, even though they enjoy immunity from prosecution.
However, correspondents say Chen Guangcheng’s house arrest, or “soft detention” in Chinese, was an unofficial measure imposed by the local authorities, not by a court, so he was not a fugitive.
One reason for the robust Chinese response is their desire to send a signal to other Chinese citizens tempted to follow Chen Guangcheng’s example, Colin Warbrick says.
“The Chinese will not want this to become a pattern – that disaffected people go to the Americans and see what they can get out of them.”
Cases like this are almost always “politically awkward” he says. In this case, the arrival of Hillary Clinton in Beijing on an official visit may have provided an extra incentive to find a quick solution.
“From an embassy’s point of view, they would want to get rid of the person as quickly as possible to resume normal business,” says Paul Whiteway, who was a British diplomat for over 30 years, and is now director of Independent Diplomat’s London office.
“I think it’s fair to say the embassy would fret about the disruption. These cases can go on for weeks, months, sometimes even years. It is not actively greeted with open arms.”
The most direct parallel with this latest case is that of Fang Lizhi, a Chinese astrophysicist and government critic, who took refuge in the US embassy in Beijing in 1989, just as the authorities were launching their crackdown on the Tiananmen protests.
He stayed over a year, and left under a deal which saw him take up a fellowship at the University of Cambridge, before moving to the US. He lived there for the rest of his life and died a few weeks ago.
The case of Fang Lizhi was a “great loss of face for Chinese authorities,” says Hugh Davies, a retired British diplomat who helped Fang to leave China, and risked becoming so with Chen Guangcheng.
Possibly the longest case ever of a dissident taking sanctuary in an embassy was that of the Hungarian Catholic Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty who spent 15 years under the protection of the US embassy in Budapest, from 1956 to 1971.
One of the largest occurred just before the fall of the Iron Curtain, when hundreds of East Germans travelled to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary and climbed into the compounds of the West German embassies there.
“The Poles agreed to take them in sealed trains across East Germany and into West Germany,” says Eileen Denza author of Diplomatic Law.
“So then many more people did it – it was a wonderful loophole!”
The practicalities of life inside depend very much on the facilities of the individual embassy.
“They have to improvise on sleep and accommodation and feeding arrangements,” says Paul Whiteway.
“Larger embassies will have kitchens normally, and they might have an embassy club. They might be arranged as a compound – in which case they might have staff housing, swimming pools and accommodation where they could put someone.
“But a lot of missions are not like that. It’s just a floor in an office block, which would make life much more difficult.”
Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer and one of China’s best known dissidents, has escaped from the house arrest.
Rights activists say Chen Guangcheng slipped out of his home in Dongshigu town in Shandong province on Sunday.
Chen Guangcheng’s exact whereabouts cannot be verified at the moment but human rights campaigners said they believe he has fled from Shandong province.
He has been under house arrest since he was released from jail in 2010.
Activist He Peirong, who has been campaigning for his freedom, told various sources that she drove him to “a safe place” outside Shandong.
Rights activists say Chen Guangcheng slipped out of his home in Dongshigu town in Shandong province on Sunday
There are also unconfirmed rumors that Chen Guangcheng, who is blind, is at the US Embassy in Beijing.
The US embassy ”would not comment”, says an Associated Press news report.
In the same report, He Peirong denied the rumors published in Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao newspaper, saying that she had spoken to people at the embassy.
“I can tell you he’s not at the US embassy, and he’s not in Shandong,” she told AP.
An activist based in the US who has been in close contact with Chen Guangcheng confirmed that the dissident had left Shandong.
”He was able to get out of his home on 22 April and his friends… escorted him to a safe location outside of [his home province of] Shandong,” Bob Fu told the AFP news agency.
Chen Guangcheng, who has been under house arrest for almost 20 months, is known as ”the blind lawyer”.
He lost his sight in childhood. He has no formal legal training as the blind were not permitted to attend college.
He is known for revealing rights abuses under China’s one-child policy and has accused officials in Shandong province of forcing 7,000 women into abortions or sterilisations.
Chen Guangcheng has also advised farmers in land disputes and campaigned for improved treatment of the disabled.
The plight of Chen Guangcheng has become famous around the world, and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly called for his release and is due to visit Beijing next week.