BEIJING — Yang Maodong, a hardened veteran of political protest in southern China, knew he had virtually no hope of winning his freedom on Friday when he was brought into a courtroom to face a judge’s verdict on charges that he had disturbed public order.
Chinese judges, after all, convict and imprison indicted dissidents with metronomic consistency, reflecting the ruling Communist Party’s control of the courts.
Still, Mr. Yang — a human rights campaigner better known by his pen name, Guo Feixiong — was surprised when the judge in the Tianhe District People’s Court in Guangzhou revealed a new charge against the defendant: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Mr. Yang, who stood trial almost a year ago, was convicted Friday on that new charge and the original one, and he was sentenced to a total of six years, two more than expected.
“This verdict is persecution. It violates rule of law,” Mr. Yang told the court on Friday, according to Zhang Lei, one of his two lawyers.
Read here what he wrote in anticipation of his sentencing.
“The guards held him like he was an animal, not a peaceful, rational man, and the court wouldn’t let him make a longer statement,” Mr. Zhang said by telephone from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province. “They dragged him out of the court.”
The judge told Mr. Yang’s lawyers of the new charge only that morning, and they had no chance to discuss the change with their client before the hearing, they said.
“I’ve done many cases like this, but this was something I never expected,” Mr. Zhang said. “I mean, adding the charge without any new trial or hearing or anything.”
The sentencing of Mr. Yang came one day after a court in Beijing released from prison a 71-year-old journalist, Gao Yu, who had been convicted of leaking state secrets, saying that she was too ill to remain incarcerated. Earlier that day, another court reduced Ms. Gao’s seven-year sentence by two years.
But Chinese lawyers who specialize in human rights cases, as well as international rights groups, said the verdict against Mr. Yang on Friday showed that Ms. Gao’s case did not augur an overall easing of President Xi Jinping’s intense campaign against dissent, and that Chinese courts remained pliant instruments of that campaign.
“Even if there’s no hope from appealing, he will appeal,” Mr. Yang’s wife, Zhang Qing, who lives in Midland, Tex., said by telephone. She said her sister-in-law had described the courtroom uproar to her. “We must expose every detail of this absurd verdict.”
Two other men who were associated with Mr. Yang, Sun Desheng and Liu Yuandong, were also sentenced to prison on Friday, given terms of two and a half years and three years, respectively.
The ruling was the latest dramatic episode in the unusual career of Mr. Yang, who was a publishing agent and writer before finding a new calling as a charismatic leader of protest causes in Guangdong.
He was arrested in 2006 and later convicted on a charge of illegal business activities related to his publishing work, an allegation that he and his supporters called a pretext to silence him. But he resumed his activism soon after his release from prison in 2011.
Mr. Yang was convicted Friday for his role in two peaceful protests in 2013.
His lawyers said that they asked the judge on Friday to give them time to prepare a defense against the new charge, but that the request was rejected.
“The judge bluntly interrupted us and finally forced us to stop speaking,” said Mr. Zhang, the lawyer.
Chinese law allows judges to add new charges to convictions at their own discretion. But the lawyers said that the power was rarely used.
Asked by telephone on Friday about the addition of the new charge, an official at the court in Guangzhou who deals with news media inquiries said, “I don’t know, and even if I did, I couldn’t tell you.”