BEIJING — China's leading dissident, Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Friday after a court found the 53-year-old literary scholar guilty of "inciting subversion to state power" through his writings and role in Charter 08, a petition advocating human rights, free speech and an end to one-party rule.
The verdict sent a signal that the Chinese Communist Party will continue to stifle domestic political critics, especially those who seek to organize their fellow Chinese. And it provided evidence that political modernization might not go hand in hand with China's economic modernization, contrary to past predictions by Chinese dissidents, U.S. business executives, political theorists and proselytizers of the Internet age.
"You can think democracy, you can talk democracy, but you can't do democracy," said Li Fan, director of the World and China Institute in Beijing.
"It certainly seems to reflect a high level of sensitivity and very low level of tolerance," said Rebecca MacKinnon, a fellow at the Open Society Institute and co-founder of GlobalVoicesOnline.org. "The chances of political reform taking place today seem lower than they did in the late '90s."
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Liu's trial, which took place at the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, lasted less than three hours Wednesday. The judge rejected evidence the defense sought to introduce and limited the speaking time of Liu's attorneys to 14 minutes, according to one of Liu's brothers.
The judge also barred journalists and foreign diplomats from attending. In contrast to the 1990s, when visits by leading international envoys often brought the release of dissidents, China has ignored calls by the Obama administration and other Western governments for Liu's release.