China has sentenced a so-called "cyber-dissident" to 12 years in prison for leaking state secrets on his controversial website, according to The Guardian.
Huang Qi was found guilty of "leaking national state secrets and providing state secrets to foreign entities" to his website, 64 Tianwang - named after the bloody 1989 Tienanmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
In addition, Huang will be stripped of political rights for four years.
According to human rights advocates, Huang was one of the most 'prominent and well connected' activists monitoring human rights in China today, and his imprisonment will silence an important voice in the debate.
"It sends a strong signal to others documenting abuses, who are already under threat. If they shut down and silence the human rights monitors, it will make it harder to know about the rights abuses going on inside China," said Frances Eve, deputy director of research at Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Huang’s website, which reported on local corruption, human rights violations and other topics rarely seen in ordinary Chinese media, is blocked on the mainland.
The website was awarded a Reporters Without Borders prize in November 2016. A few weeks later, Huang was detained in his home town of Chengdu, according to Amnesty International.
Huang’s work has repeatedly drawn the ire of Chinese authorities. In 2009 he was sentenced to three years in prison after campaigning for parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which left nearly 87,000 people dead or missing and authorities facing huge public anger over shoddy building construction.
Five years later Huang and at least three citizen journalists who contribute to 64 Tianwang were detained by police after the site reported on a woman who had set herself on fire in Tiananmen Square.
Eve said Huang’s sentencing is effectively a death sentence, given his deteriorating health. -The Guardian
"His is an outrageously long sentence for a citizen journalist documenting human rights abuses" said Eve. "It seems designed to kill him in detention, totally out of proportion with what they were charging him with."
Huang's 85-year-old mother, Pu Wenqing, has been subject to police surveillance, and has been blocked from leaving her home or having visitors. She says her phone line is often blocked as well - and hadn't yet received news of her son's sentencing.
"I don’t get the news. People can’t get in and I can’t get out," she said.