Wang Dan, the top student leader of China's 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations, was sentenced Saturday to four years imprisonment, official Chinese news media reported.
The Beijing Intermediate People's Court also imposed a sentence of seven years on veteran activist Ren Wanding, who spoke at the massive Tian An Men Square protests in the spring of 1989 despite having previously endured four years imprisonment for helping lead a late-1970s democracy movement.
The action against Wang, 23, and Ren, 46, both convicted of "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement," is part of a wave of trials aimed at settling the cases of dozens of prominent dissidents imprisoned in the wake of a brutal army crackdown that ended the protests.
Recent disposition of cases against 24 other people imprisoned since 1989 for their roles in "the anti-government turmoil and rebellion" was also announced Saturday by the official New China News Agency. Most in this group were released, but three were sentenced to terms ranging from two to five years.
In an apparent attempt to discredit Wang and prevent him from becoming a rallying point in some future pro-democracy effort, the official news agency claimed that during his imprisonment he had shown "repentance" and participated in "exposing others." It described his four-year sentence as a "lesser punishment," implying that this was earned by his attitude. Wang, a key figure in planning protest strategy, headed a most-wanted list issued by police after the crackdown.
Ren received the heavier sentence of seven years partly because he "showed no repentance," the official agency said. It is a key tenet of the Chinese legal system that leniency should be granted to those who confess and repent, while more severe punishment is meted out to those who maintain their innocence. In the case of political prisoners, this can create enormous pressures to show a relatively cooperative attitude--pressures that Ren has apparently resisted.
Also drawing prison terms Saturday were student leader Guo Haifeng, sentenced to four years; Bao Zunxin, a historian and writer, sentenced to five years, and Yao Junling, sentenced to two years. All sentences will run from the date of arrest in 1989, the New China News Agency said.
Dozens of police blocked the area in front of the court building Saturday afternoon while sentencing took place. When a small convoy of police vehicles, their lights and sirens on, drove out of the court compound, reporters spotted Wang in the back of a police jeep. Bespectacled and wearing a padded jacket, Wang managed a fleeting wave.
Three additional defendants were convicted but "exempted from criminal punishment," the news agency said. They were identified as Liu Xiaobo, 35, a university lecturer who became prominent as a hunger striker during the final days of the 1989 protests; Chen Lai, and Li Chenghuan. No independent observers have been allowed at the trials, and little is known of what has taken place in the courtroom. In the Chinese system, guilt or innocence is primarily determined by police and prosecutors working under the control of the Communist Party. Once someone is brought to trial, the main point of discussion is the severity of the sentence rather than the guilt of the defendant. In sensitive political trials such as these, the entire process is believed to be highly scripted.