China court rejects official's lawsuit against labor sentence

The official had been sentenced for criticizing the Chinese government in a case that drew public criticism.

BEIJING - A Chinese court on Tuesday rejected a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed by a village official against the authorities in the southwestern city of Chongqing for sentencing him to a labor camp after he criticized the government, his lawyer said.

Ren Jianyu's treatment generated a storm of criticism from Chinese Internet users and even state media, as well as reviving debate over freedom of speech and China's much-maligned "re-education through labor" system.

A Chongqing court dismissed the lawsuit filed by Ren against the Chongqing Re-education through Labour Committee, which sentenced him to two years in a labour camp in September last year, said Ren's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang.

"It was dismissed, we will appeal," Pu told Reuters by telephone. "They said we exceeded the time limit for filing a lawsuit - we should have sued within three months."

Ren, 25, was sentenced for posting online messages that called for the downfall of the party's "dictatorship".

He was released on Monday after serving only about half his term following a public outcry.

Ren had forwarded photographs of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao online with the words "down with the Chinese Communist Party" on them after a July 2011 train crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou, Pu said.

Ren had wanted to criticize the leadership for the poor official response to the deadly crash, the lawyer said.

Ren also forwarded messages that said: "End one-party dictatorship, long live freedom and democracy." He posted a photograph of Li Keqiang, set to be China's next premier, with the words "Mafia leader" written on it, Pu said.

Complaints about Ren's case came as Beijing said it would reform the "re-education through labour" system, which empowers police and other agencies to detain people for up to four years without a court process.

At least two men in Chongqing have had their convictions overturned after being detained for online postings about officials during the time in power of former senior politician Bo Xilai.

Former political heavyweight Bo, who was Chongqing party chief, was once a contender for top leadership in China.

But he was expelled from the party this year and faces possible charges of corruption and abuse of power, while his wife was jailed for murdering a British businessman. Bo's critics also accuse him of rights abuses in Chongqing and for locking many of his critics up without cause in labour camps.

The Chongqing Re-education through Labour Committee had accused Ren of "incitement to subvert state power" - a charge often leveled against critics of the party such as jailed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, whose name has been all but scrubbed from the public domain in China.