Yang Chunlin, an unemployed former factory worker from Jiamusi, Heilongjiang province, was accused of accepting money from hostile foreign organisations, writing critical articles, and organising a petition on behalf of farmers who lost their land to developers. The petition, which was circulated last year, declared: "We don't want the Olympics, we want human rights." According to Yang's family, it was signed by 7,000 to 8,000 people.
His sister Yang Chunping said the sentence was excessive because of the timing. "My brother helped farmers asking for land. He might have criticised the party as well as some officials, but all he did is to improve the development of democracy in China. What he said is based on freedom of speech. It is not against the law," she said. "If it were not Olympic year, my brother won't get such a heavy sentence."
The court passed sentence as the Olympics torch left Athens on its way to Beijing for the games this August. China wants to use the Olympics to highlight how economic development has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but critics see the event as an opportunity to highlight human rights abuses.
Yang is not the first dissident to suffer legal action for speaking out. Hu Jia, a civil rights campaigner, was tried on a subversion charge last week and is awaiting sentence. Last month, democracy activist Lu Gengsong was given four years in jail on the same charge. Others, such as petitioner Liu Jie, have been put into "education through labour" camps for speaking out about human rights abuses and land seizures.
Yang was accused of receiving 10,000 yuan (£700) from the China Liberal Democracy party, which the communist authorities in Beijing have designated a hostile organisation. The dissident is innocent but will not appeal, according to his lawyer Li Fangping, because he does not want to legitimise what he considers a flawed legal process.