BEIJING -- A Chinese court on Sunday sentenced a brother-in-law of a persecuted Nobel Peace Prize winner to 11 years in prison on charges of financial fraud, according to friends of the laureate, Liu Xiaobo.
The sentence against Mr. Liu's brother-in-law, Liu Hui, was extraordinary for its severity and is widely viewed as an instance of political persecution. Liu Xiaobo is himself serving an 11-year prison sentence for inciting subversion of state power. The sentence was handed down in December 2009, after Mr. Liu had been detained in the wake of writing and circulating an online petition that called for China to gradually adopt constitutional democracy. The petition, Charter 08, got thousands of signatures, and Mr. Liu was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by a committee in Norway but was unable to attend the ceremony because of his imprisonment.
Mr. Liu's wife, Liu Xia, the older sister of Liu Hui, has been kept under house arrest since the announcement of the prize in October 2010 and has had no contact with the outside world, except for very brief meetings with liberal Chinese friends and also once with reporters of The Associated Press who managed to sneak past guards last December to visit her.
Ms. Liu was seen on Sunday being driven away from the courthouse in Huairou, northeast of Beijing, where her brother's verdict had been announced. "I absolutely cannot accept this," she told reporters from the passenger seat of the car, according to Reuters. "This is simply persecution."
She added that "this is completely an illegal verdict" and that she had "completely lost hope" in the government.
The verdict against Liu Hui came as Xi Jinping, the new leader of the Communist Party, and President Obama wrapped up a two-day summit meeting in California. Some analysts and human rights advocates interpreted its harshness as a message to the Obama administration that China's new leaders do not intend to bow to Western pressure on human rights. There have been other notable infringements on human rights in recent months, including the detentions of at least 15 people this spring who had separately called for officials to disclose their assets; of those, 10 have been charged with various crimes, including inciting the subversion of state power.
On the Liu Hui verdict, "the timing was interesting, with Xi Jinping meeting with Obama in California," said Nicholas Bequelin, an Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "It was kind of a slap in the face."
Last week, around the 24th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre, there were reports of detentions and harassment of Chinese rights advocates and liberal journalists by security agents. All the recent crackdowns show that Mr. Xi and his colleagues are, for now, sticking to the hard-line attitude toward human rights that characterized the decade-long rule of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
The authorities did make a couple of minor concessions before the California meeting. Chinese officials gave passports to the mother and older brother of Chen Guangcheng, the human rights advocate who fled to the United States last year, and allowed a Chinese-American engineer, Hu Zhicheng, to leave China after being held here for five years against his will over a business dispute.
But the harassment of Mr. Chen's family by local officials has persisted in Shandong Province. The Liu Hui case shows, too, that China remains intolerant of political dissent and, as many human rights groups say, continues to block citizens who seek to exercise freedom of speech.
Lui Hui's lawyers have maintained his innocence. Chinese officials accused Mr. Liu, the manager of a real estate company in Shenzhen, of working with a colleague to steal nearly $500,000 from a man named Zhang Bing through a complicated fraud scheme.
"As Liu's lawyer, I think the court's ruling is completely unfair and wrong," said Mo Shaoping, a well-known human rights defender. "The court did not respect the basic facts as well as the basic laws of this case. What Liu did didn't constitute fraud since Liu did not fabricate facts or conceal any intentions."
In Beijing, a prominent corruption trial for Liu Zhijun, the former railways minister, began on Sunday. Mr. Liu faced an array of charges that centered on abuse of power. He is one of the most powerful politicians to be brought down by corruption charges in recent years. Under his management, the Railways Ministry expanded its construction of an ambitious high-speed train network, but graft was reportedly rampant, and a deadly accident caused many Chinese to question the pace of growth of the high-speed system.
People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, reported Sunday that Mr. Liu stood accused, among other things, of taking nearly $11 million from 1986 to 2011. Mr. Liu's lawyer entered a guilty plea and asked the court to hand down a lenient sentence. The court is expected to announce the sentence later.
Another anticipated corruption trial involves Bo Xilai, the former party chief of Chongqing and Politburo member whose wife was found guilty in a show trial last year of murdering a British businessman. Party insiders said last year that Mr. Bo had been resisting interrogators as they tried to build a case against him. Mr. Bo was widely seen as a Communist Party aristocrat who hoped to challenge Mr. Xi for supremacy within the party.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.