BEIJING — A dissident Chinese poet whose detention has drawn an international appeal for his release was sentenced Monday by a court in southwestern China to 12 years in prison for contract fraud, his lawyer said.
Li Bifeng – formerly imprisoned for five years for involvement in the Tiananmen Square democracy movement – was sentenced at Shehong County Court in Sichuan province, said lawyer Zhao Jianwei. He said the defense would appeal.
"We believe the verdict was not based on the facts and the prosecutors and the court violated procedural laws and regulations," Zhao said.
A court official who declined to give his name confirmed Li's hearing had taken place, but said he didn't have details.
Li's friend – exiled dissident Liao Yiwu – said the 48-year-old Li was targeted because he was suspected of financing Liao's escape from the country last year. Liao said those suspicions are false.
Earlier this year, after Li was detained, Liao launched an international appeal from Germany calling for Li's release. Nobel Prize for Literature winner Herta Muller and Ha Jin, winner of the U.S. National Book Award, were among those who joined the appeal.
Li's wife said Monday's verdict was untenable.
Zhan Xia said the charge related to a sales agreement that her husband had signed with an alcohol company to help sell some apartments on southern Hainan island.
"After the apartments were sold, the company sued him for contract fraud, which is groundless," she said.
"He is a very good friend of Liao Yiwu, but he didn't tell me whether he helped Liao flee. His being on trial must be related to his alleged help of Liao because the economic charge against him can't be proven," she said.
Zhan said she had only seen her husband once since he was detained in September 2011 and that was at his trial in July.
"He wasn't in good mental health and was suffering from high blood pressure," she said.
A man from Shehong County's prosecutor's office said he knew nothing about the case. Calls to Shehong Public Security Bureau rang unanswered.