(Washington, DC) - The jailing of China’s leading human rights activist, Hu Jia, reflects a further hardening of Beijing’s stance towards dissent in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said today.

Hu, 34, was sentenced to three and half year in prison and one additional year of deprivation of political rights for “incitement to subvert state power,” a crime regularly leveled against critics and dissidents. China’s subversion laws effectively criminalize criticisms of the party and the government.

Human Rights Watch has previously said that Hu’s arrest was politically motivated and that his trial had not met minimum standards of fairness and due process. Hu’s lawyers indicated that they had pleaded not guilty and that they intended to appeal the sentence.

“Hu Jia’s sentence shows that you can’t defend human rights in China without becoming a case yourself,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “His arrest was unjustified, his trial unfair, and his sentence unwarranted.”

Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, is herself a noted activist. She was selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people globally in May 2007. She was not allowed to testify in court during Hu’s trial. Their daughter Qianci was born in November 2007, a few weeks before Hu’s arrest.

Human Rights Watch strongly urged the international community, and particularly Beijing-based diplomats, to visit Zeng and Qianci, and to insist on an end to their harassment by police.

Human Rights Watch said the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) failure to raise Hu Jia’s case with the Chinese government was at odds with the letter and the spirit of the Olympic Charter. Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the IOC coordination commission, did not mention Hu Jia’s sentence at a Beijing press conference today, but did note that, “[The IOC] can easily prove that bringing the Games here has led to improvements.”

“If the Chinese government had betrayed its commitments to the IOC on infrastructure, logistics, or air quality for the Games, you can bet we would hear about it,” said Richardson. “Why can’t the IOC find its voice when the Chinese government so clearly fails in its human rights commitments?”