The Beijing University student who helped spark China's 1989 democracy movement, Wang Dan, was sentenced Saturday to four years in prison. Longtime dissident Ren Wanding got a seven-year sentence.
The government declared it was "combining punishment with leniency" as it sentenced a total of five democracy activists to prison, convicted but released three others, and released 18 without trial. It also let off 45 people who apparently had been jailed but not charged.The government clearly hoped to deflect criticism by announcing the releases at the same time as the sentences.
But a relative of one of the jailed activists said bitterly, "How can they call this light treatment? The sentences are too long for just speaking the truth."
The rush to close the cases comes 20 months after the army drove pro-democracy demonstrators from Beijing's streets with gunfire, and police rounded them up. Hundreds of people were killed in the army attack.
After months of inaction, China has held a blitz of closed-door trials over the past month for people accused of leading the massive rallies for democratic reform. Many believe the government hopes to benefit from international preoccupation with the Persian Gulf war to sentence the protesters with a minimum of outcry.
Not all of the protesters have been dealt with. No date has been announced for the trials of those the government considers the most serious offenders - a half-dozen older intellectuals and Communist Party officials accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
More than 50 police kept pedestrians at a distance from the Beijing Intermediate People's Court on Saturday afternoon while the sentencing took place. The actual trials were spread over several weeks.
The official Xinhua news agency said some relatives were allowed to attend the trials. However, most were not even notified that the trials were taking place.
Journalists and human rights activists were turned away.
Ren's sentence was the most severe in a recent spate of trials of the pro-democracy activists. Xinhua said Ren, unlike the others, "showed no repentance."
The 46-year-old accountant gave several speeches but played no leadership role in the movement. However, he had distributed essays calling for human rights since 1988, and was jailed in 1979-83 for taking part in an earlier democracy movement.
In interviews before his arrest in June 1989, Ren said he only wanted the government to abide by its own constitution, which promises free speech.
Chinese sources said he was in poor health in Qincheng Prison. His relatives have not been allowed to visit him since his arrest 20 months ago.
Wang, 23, an intense but shy youth with deep convictions, was a key figure in starting the seven weeks of student-led protests in 1989. He could often be seen at the head of marches and was one of a small group of students who planned protest strategy.