“His harsh sentence is a stark reminder to the Chinese people and the world that there is still no freedom of expression or independent judiciary in China,” says Roseann Rife, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International.
Liu, a scholar and literary critic, was charged with “incitement to subversion” because he coauthored Charter 08, a petition for political freedom and an end to the ruling Communist party’s monopoly of power. The online petition has garnered thousands of signatures since it was released just over a year ago.
“This is a really, really difficult time for human rights in China right now,” says John Kamm, who heads the US-based human rights group Dui Hua.
Still, the very length of Liu’s sentence could prompt a rethink by the Chinese authorities, he suggests.
“It is ridiculous and outrageous” and has heaped widespread public condemnation on Beijing’s head, says Mr. Kamm, who has been making behind-the-scenes efforts to release Chinese political prisoners for more than two decades.
“This is a tipping point,” he predicts. “I think they will have to work themselves out of this in a less hard-line way,” by treating future political detainees more cautiously.
Liu is all too familiar with Chinese jails; he was first locked up in 1989 for his role during the Tiananmen Square protests, having returned home to join them after only two months on a visiting scholarship at Columbia University in New York.
He was imprisoned twice more for his writings before being arrested in December 2008, two days before Charter 08 was due to be released.