Beijing - A court in eastern China on Thursday imposed jail terms of up to six and a half years on three activists who were part of a nascent civil rights movement that has urged government officials to publicly disclose their assets.
The sentences, decried by other dissidents as excessively heavy, reflect the increasingly hard line that China's Communist Party has taken against political dissent, no matter how peacefully expressed or loosely organised.
Party leaders have been wary of any independent social force with the potential to threaten the party's rule by mobilising groups of people and have sought to quash the loosely knit New Citizens Movement that the three activists were part of.
A district court in the city of Xinyu sentenced Liu Ping, a labor activist, and Wei Zhongping to six and a half years' imprisonment each while another activist, Li Sihua, was given three years, said one of their lawyers, Zhou Ze.
The activists were convicted of "creating a disturbance", a vaguely defined offence that has been increasingly used to lock up activists. Liu and Wei also were convicted of two other charges.
Liu's lawyer Si Weijiang said there was no legal basis for the convictions. "The evidence shows the three of them are clearly not guilty, but the authorities were determined to convict them," Si said.
In Liu and Wei's cases, their sentences were heavier than that which a Beijing court imposed on the group's founder Xu Zhiyong, in January, which was four years in prison.
The prosecutions have been part of an expansive crackdown since last spring on political expression that has seen the arrests and detentions of prominent activists, intellectuals, rights lawyers, bloggers and advocates for minority rights.
"The signal they want to send is that all political dissidents, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent, they will convict and sentence you," Si said.