A Chinese court has sentenced a lawyer who defended activists and others in sensitive cases to 12 years in prison on fraud charges.

Xia Lin was sentenced Thursday by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court, nearly two years after being detained.

His sentencing comes amid a string of cases and subversion trials demonstrating the ruling Communist Party's determination to silence independent human rights activists and government critics.

Advocacy group Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders said the charges against Xia related to money he had borrowed from friends, who asserted they did so freely and had not brought legal complaints against him.

It said investigators focused not on the fraud charges, but on Xia's association with government critics, including renowned artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei.