updated 1/8/2009 7:25:11 AM ET 2009-01-08T12:25:11

A 65-year-old democracy activist who tried to set up an opposition party in China has been sentenced to six years in jail, a human rights group said Thursday.

A court in Hangzhou, a prosperous city in eastern Zhejiang province, sentenced Wang Rongqing on Wednesday on charges of subverting state power for organizing the banned China Democracy Party, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Wang was detained in June, two months before the Olympic Games started, the group said. Wang's brother, Wang Rongyao, confirmed the sentence. The Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court could not be immediately be reached for comment.

Wang has been repeatedly harassed and detained by police during his years of activism, which started in the late 1970s as China's hard-line Maoist era came to a close and some started calling for democracy. He was detained for two months in 1999.

'Good spirits'
"He was not in good physical condition and he stood in court with the assistance of the police, but he was in good spirits," said Zou Wei, a friend and fellow dissident of Wang who was in court Wednesday.

Founded by dissidents in mid-1998, the China Democracy Party was quashed just six months later by the Communist Party, which allows no challenge to its political monopoly. Dozens of activists were arrested and sentenced to up to 13 years in prison, most on charges of subverting state power.

China allows a small number of officially recognized alternative parties, although they serve as advisers to rather than competitors to the ruling Communist Party.

More than 100 co-signers of a Chinese petition calling for democracy and an end to the dominance of the Communist Party have been harassed or summoned for questioning by police, Chinese Human Rights Defenders said Thursday.

The group said the signers were pressured by police because of their support for "Charter 08," an unusually open call for civil rights and political reforms released early last month.

Lawyers involved in the case could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The rights group also said efforts have been made to stifle information about the charter on the Internet. Searches for "Charter 08" on the three main search engines in China — Baidu, Google.cn and Yahoo — turn up blank pages. China routinely censors Web sites that contain unsavory or subversive information.

Calls to the Ministry of Public Security were not answered Thursday.

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