BEIJING — A Chinese court has sentenced a democracy advocate who started several online groups and participated in political discussions to eight years in prison on the charge of inciting subversion.
Cao Haibo’s sentencing comes as China prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that kicks off Nov. 8. In the lead-up to the opening of the Communist Party congress in Beijing, authorities have intensified pressure on activists, dissidents, and lawyers around the country.
Attorney Ma Xiaopeng said a court in the southern city of Kunming notified him Thursday that Cao, 27, had been sentenced in a secret hearing Wednesday. Ma said the court violated Chinese law that states all verdicts must be announced in open hearings. Ma has not yet seen a copy of the verdict.
Cao’s wife, Zhang Nian, said she had not been contacted by the court about the hearing either and said the sentence was too severe. ‘‘He didn’t take any substantive action. All he did was express his opinions on the Internet,’’ Zhang said.
Cao had been working at an Internet cafe in Yunnan Province when he set up a website and a number of online groups to promote democracy and constitutional government and was detained.
In May, he was tried by the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court, which held a closed-door hearing because, it said, the case involved state secrets, according to Cao’s lawyer Ma.
Subversion is a vaguely defined charge China frequently uses to punish political critics.