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We've told you about how Chinese authorities have handed out several tough prison sentences to prominent human rights activists and dissidents over the Christmas holiday season. Human rights groups say the aim was to avoid attention from foreign media. And it's not the first time--two years ago authorities sentenced Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison on Christmas Day.
A few days before Christmas, the Chinese regime officially sentenced rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng to three years in prison. On December 23rd, they sentenced dissident Chen Wei to nine years for "inciting subversion of state power," and on Boxing Day—the day after Christmas—veteran activist of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests Chen Xi was given a ten-year sentence for publishing essays critical of the regime.
Human rights organizations say these sentences have been handed out during Christmas for a reason.
[Pu Fei, Tianwang Human Rights Service Center]:
"Choosing the Christmas period to hand out sentences to dissidents is a usual practice by the Chinese Communist regime. This is because over the Christmas season, many foreign journalists in China are on vacation. So choosing Christmas is mostly to deter journalists and the international community from paying attention to China's human rights situation."
President of the US-based Chinese Christian organization China Aid, Bob Fu, criticizes the regime's tactics.
[Bob Fu, President, China Aid]:
"Christmas is a symbol of harmony, reconciliation, love and reunion, but the communist regime has used the festival to carry out inhumane sentences and suppression."
Gao Zhisheng has been in and out of custody since 2006. The lawyer defended persecuted groups such as Falun Gong practitioners and house Christians.