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China Jails Dissident For 11 Years

Supporters of leading Chinese pro-democracy dissident Liu Xiaobo passed out yellow ribbons during his trial on subversion charges.

BEIJING (Reuters) -- China's most prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for "incitement to subvert state power" with writings calling for civil freedom and multiparty democracy.

Liu, who turns 54 on Monday and is a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, was a main author of the Charter 08 manifesto which called for sweeping political reforms.

He stood in the middle of the courtroom when a Beijing Intermediate People's Court judge read the verdict and was not given a chance to respond.

"The court had strictly followed the legal procedures in this case and fully protected Liu's litigation rights," read a court statement, carried by China's official Xinhua news agency.

"We hope he will appeal, but it's up to him," his lawyer Shang Baojun said, adding that Liu has 10 days to decide.

Liu has been in custody since a few days before Charter 08 was launched online on Dec. 10, 2008, to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

His wife Liu Xia was escorted to the courtroom by security on a bitterly cold and windy morning. She had been forbidden from attending the closed-door trial on the opening day on Wednesday.

Xinhua carried the statement only on its English-language service, and not its Chinese service, an indication the news was for foreign consumption and not for the Chinese public to know.

"The trial was open to the public. Two lawyers defended Liu at the trial and his family was present," the statement said.

A Beijing-based U.S. diplomat, Gregory May, read out a statement that the United States was deeply concerned by the verdict, and called for Liu's immediate release.

China denounced foreign diplomatic "meddling" in the trial on Thursday, one day after diplomats from the United States, Canada, Australia and several European countries were barred from the trial.

Phelim Kine, Asia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the verdict was a "travesty of justice".

"This decision is both a personal insult to and tragedy for Liu Xiaobo, who is guilty of nothing more than advocating rights and freedoms articulated in China's own constitution," Kine said by telephone from Hong Kong.

"Liu Xiaobo is neither a subversive nor a criminal and he should be freed immediately."

The verdict was swiftly spread by Liu's supporters on Twitter, which is blocked in China but can be accessed by by-passing Internet controls. Many showed yellow ribbons in solidarity.

Liu has been a thorn in the government's side since 1989 when he joined a hunger strike in support of student protesters days before the army crushed the pro-democracy movement centred on Tiananmen Square on June 4 that year.

He had previously been jailed for 20 months in the wake of 1989 and again in the 1990s, spending three years at a labor camp and eight months under virtual house arrest.

Liu has remained a vocal and acerbic critic of the government and also helped found the Independent Chinese PEN group, which has campaigned against censorship and political controls.