Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have jailed an outspoken journalist for four years on subversion charges, his lawyer said.
Sun Lin, who also uses the online nickname Jie Mu, was found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power" by the Nanjing Intermediate People's Court following a trial in February.
The court passed verdict and announced the sentence of four years' imprisonment on Tuesday, in Sun's absence, his defense lawyer Mo Shaoping said.
"Sentence was passed in absentia, which is to say that Sun Lin wasn't in court, but back in the detention center," Mo said. "The judges appeared in court, and Sun Lin was connected via a video link, and able to communicate with the court."
He said that while the sentencing arrangements were unprecedented, the sentence didn't come as a surprise.
"This was within our expectations," Mo said. "The judgment actually treats him as a re-offender, because less than five years had passed since he finished serving his last sentence, so the sentence was harsher than it otherwise might have been."
Mo, who argued during the trial that Sun was not guilty of the charges against him, said his client plans to appeal.
Sun, who has frequently spoken out against the use of staged “confessions” by the authorities in the past, refused to cooperate during his detention with police demands that he "confess" or plead guilty to the charges.
The case against him rested on 25 social media posts and videos retweeted by Sun on social media, as well as his shouting "Down with the [ruling] Communist Party!" at an official party meeting in his neighborhood.
"We don't believe that this amounts to incitement to subversion," Mo said.
Sun was initially detained by police on Nov. 16, 2016 as he shot video footage of the opening of the trial of Nanjing-based rights activist Wang Jian.
Wang said Sun is innocent.
"I think he's innocent," Wang said. "Detaining and sentencing him is outright political persecution, under international law and under the Chinese constitution."
Sun had already served a four-year jail term from 2007-2011 for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” after he wrote about official abuse of power in support of a group of forced evictees in Nanjing.
He has been financially dependent on relatives since being unable to find work owing to his police record, and his in-laws have had their sources of income cut off too, he has previously said.
Patrick Poon, China researcher for the London-based rights group Amnesty International, said the authorities are increasingly using "subversion" charges to target peaceful critics of the Chinese government.
"Incitement to subvert carries a maximum jail term of 15 years, while subversion of state power carries no upper custodial sentence limit," Poon said.
He said the authorities also often use "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" to target peaceful dissents, although such charges can often be changed once more evidence is gathered.
"Picking quarrels and stirring up trouble carries a maximum term of six or seven years," Poon said.
China is the world’s top jailer of journalists and bloggers, with 60 behind bars in 2018, Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual report.
The majority of those are citizen reporters who operated outside the Chinese Communist Party's strictly regulated state media, the group said earlier this month.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.