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Heavy jail terms for Chinese anti-graft trio: lawyer
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) June 19, 2014

Scandal-hit China official's brother under investigation
Beijing (AFP) June 19, 2014 - China's Communist Party announced an investigation Thursday into the brother of Ling Jihua, a former presidential ally whose reputation was tarnished by a scandalous Ferrari crash that killed his son.

His brother, Ling Zhengce, was being investigated for "serious discipline violations," generally a euphemism for graft, the party's central disciplinary body said on its website.

Ling Jihua's son died as a result of the high-speed crash in Beijing in March 2012 that also left two women passengers hurt, one of whom was naked, according to media reports at the time. Ling was once seen as a close ally of former president Hu Jintao.

His death added to public perceptions of corrupt and high-living officials, and Ling failed to rise up to the party's 25-member Politburo in a party reshuffle in 2012.

The official kept his post in its 205-member central committee but failed to rise to the the next level -- the 25-person Politburo, and was given a lower profile job as part of the party's united front department.

The Communist party's leadership appointments are decided in an opaque process which analysts say depends on backroom deals between competing factions, often based on regional or family ties.

Ling's brother was a vice-president of the Shanxi provincial branch of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, a debating chamber which is part of China's party-controlled government structure.

Photographs of the crash in 2012 were briefly circulated online, sparking questions about how the son of a government official could afford a luxury sports car worth a reported five million yuan (around $800,000).

Three Chinese anti-corruption activists were sentenced to up to six and a half years in prison on Thursday, a lawyer said, the latest in their grass-roots movement to be jailed despite an official drive against graft.

A court in the central province of Jiangxi sentenced Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping to six and a half years and Li Sihua to three years, Li's lawyer Zhou Ze told AFP.

The three had taken photos of themselves last year holding banners urging government officials to disclose their assets as a curb against corruption.

Liu and Wei were found guilty of disrupting public order, "using evil religion to sabotage law enforcement" and "picking fights and provoking trouble", while Li was convicted only of the final charge.

Zhou said it was up to the three to choose whether to appeal but added: "Does it matter? The ruling in an appeal is already decided."

Liu and Wei's six-and-a-half-year sentences are the longest handed down to members of their New Citizens Movement so far.

China's courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party and have a near-perfect conviction rate.

"From the beginning we knew this was a political case, so we had prepared ourselves psychologically," Liu Ping's daughter Liao Minyue told AFP.

"I was not allowed into the court to hear the verdict, and there were a lot of police outside," she said, adding that she felt "very upset" about the outcome.

Under President Xi Jinping, who ascended to the top of the party in late 2012, China has cracked down on dissent including prosecuting around a dozen of the New Citizens.

Participants in the loose and moderate group held small periodic protests and focused on issues such as corruption, migrant rights and education.

Party leaders have also vowed to root out rampant official corruption, but fear that organised popular movements could challenge their control.

A founder of the New Citizens Movement, lawyer Xu Zhiyong, was sentenced to four years' jail in April. Numerous other Beijing-based participants have also received prison terms of several years for disrupting public order.

"The charges against these activists were preposterous from the very beginning," William Nee, a researcher for campaign group Amnesty International, said of the Jiangxi trio in an emailed statement.

"The harsh sentences are just the latest moves in the politically motivated crackdown on the New Citizens Movement."

Authorities have also sought to stifle online social networks -- a useful way to organise activities and share information and ideas -- by threatening to jail those who spread "rumours".

They detained rights lawyers and activists ahead of the sensitive June 4th anniversary of the deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy Tiananmen protests.

Among those, the prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang -- who had represented one of the Jiangxi activists -- was arrested last week on suspicion on creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information.


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