A Chinese court sentenced former American football player Wendell Brown to four years in prison Thursday for being involved in a bar fight, a punishment his lawyer and an activist call excessive. Brown, a native of Detroit who played for Ball State University in Indiana, had been teaching American football in southwest China when he was arrested in September 2016 and later charged with intentional assault. He has denied hitting a man at a bar and said he'd raised his arms in self-defense after being attacked, per the AP. A judge in the city of Chongqing issued the sentence after a brief hearing, Brown's lawyer said by phone, adding Brown, 31, intends to appeal. "Four years for a fight in a bar is extremely unjust and excessive," says John Kamm, an activist who frequently meets with senior Chinese officials to seek clemency for political prisoners in China and had lobbied on Brown's behalf.
On Sept. 24, 2016, nightclub revelers threw a bottle at Brown and an altercation followed, supporters say. A local accused Brown of seriously injuring his eye, which had to be removed, and demanded more than $100,000. Similar disputes are often settled out of court in China—where the conviction rate is 99%—but Brown didn't reach a settlement and pleaded not guilty. China sometimes deports foreigners after convictions, but it's not clear whether that will happen, per Kamm. Brown, who played linebacker for Ball State between 2004 and 2008 and also in the Canadian Football League before moving to China to coach, has already been detained 20 months. Beijing's US Embassy says it's following his case. "I still don't understand: He is guilty of what?" Brown's mother, Antoinette, said by phone after the verdict. "It was all about the money. It was a clear shakedown. It's unfair justice."
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