updated 5/16/2006 2:24:23 AM ET 2006-05-16T06:24:23

A veteran Chinese dissident writer was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday on subversion charges, his lawyer said.

Yang Tianshui was found guilty after a half-day closed-door trial in the eastern city of Zhenjiang, lawyer Li Jianqiang said.

Li declined to give details of the evidence presented against Yang, saying it had been declared secret.

But he said the prosecutor had sought to prove Yang acted in collusion with “hostile overseas forces” — a charge often linked to sending information to overseas human rights groups or posting essays on Web sites hosted abroad.

“We think Yang is innocent and should be released immediately,” Li said in a telephone interview. “I regret this result deeply.”

Li said the heavy sentence appeared to have been ordered because Yang had previously served a 10-year sentence for criticizing the army’s bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989.

Yang was detained again last Christmas amid what appeared to be a new attempt by communist authorities to muzzle discussion of social problems, democracy and government policies.

China frequently uses its vaguely defined national security laws to silence critics and perceived foes.

Li said Yang had denied the subversion charge but made no statement at his trial and did not plan to appeal.

“We pretty much expected this,” he said.

While intolerant of all dissent, China’s communist government under President Hu Jintao has aggressively moved against writers and others who broadcast their views to a larger audience.

Hundreds of small publications have been shut down, while regulations on Web site content have been tightened. China is believed to be the world’s leading jailer of journalists, with at least 42 behind bars, many on security or subversion charges.

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