Chinese democracy activist sentenced to 13 years for 'subversion'

Qin Yongmin (R) was first jailed as a "counter-revolutionary" from 1981-1989, has already spent a total of 22 years in prison. [AFP]

A prominent Chinese political campaigner was sentenced to 13 years in jail on Wednesday, a court in central China said.

Qin Yongmin was found "guilty of subversion of state power," the Wuhan City Intermediate People's Court said on its official website.

The 64-year-old, first jailed as a "counter-revolutionary" from 1981-1989, has already spent a total of 22 years in prison.

At the time of his arrest in January 2015, Qin was the head of the pro-democracy "China Human Rights Watch" group, which circulated online statements denouncing government policies, as well as organising discussion groups.

Qin had "refused to cooperate with the court" and remained completely silent during his trial in May, lawyer Lin Qilei had previously told AFP.

His lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the verdict on Wednesday.

The verdict comes a day after Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo, left China to Germany.

She had been held under de facto house arrest -- despite no charges -- since 2010, when her husband received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Liu Xiaobo, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, died last year while serving an 11-year jail sentence for "subversion".

Frances Eve, researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said Qin was "prosecuted for his belief in a democratic China as well as his actions in advocating for human rights."

"Authorities have been unable to build a case against him despite three years of investigation," Eve said.

The veteran activist was last convicted and sentenced to prison in late 1998 after he and other activists sought to officially register the China Democracy Party. He was released in December 2010.

Upon his release, Qin said police had told him not to speak with journalists, while several of his supporters who had hoped to meet him have disappeared and are believed to be in police custody.

But Qin told AFP at the time that he would continue to advance human rights because "I must do what I must do."