A Chinese activist who applied for permission during last year's Olympic Games to protest against corruption has been sentenced to three years in prison, his lawyer said Friday.

Ji Sizun, 58, was sentenced on charges of making fake official government seals and forging official documents in 2006, his lawyer Huang Qiang said.

Huang refused to say if the sentence was linked to Ji's attempt to demonstrate during the Aug. 8-24 games, a politically sensitive time that was supposed to showcase China as a world power.

Authorities often use unrelated charges to punish and imprison dissidents.

"For these charges, three years is the heaviest punishment," Huang said.

Phelim Kine of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Ji appears to be the first person who applied to protest during the Games to be criminally convicted.

"Ji Sizun's conviction for merely attempting to legally protest during the Olympics is a vindictive betrayal of the Chinese government's promises that the Beijing Olympics would foster a greater development of human rights in China," Kine said.

In the run-up to the Olympics, the security chief for the Beijing Organizing Committee said protests would be allowed in three public parks far away from the main sports venues but in the end, none occurred.

Citizens who applied were either detained by authorities or stonewalled by complicated application procedures. Plainclothes security agents staked out demonstration zones and filmed passers-by.

In one instance, two women in their 70s were ordered to spend a year in a labour camp after applying, but authorities later reversed their decision.

Ji, who travelled to Beijing from the southern province of Fujian, wanted to call for greater participation of Chinese citizens in the political process and denounce rampant official corruption.

He applied to protest at a neighbourhood police station the day the Olympics began and when he returned to check on his application three days later, he disappeared, human rights groups said.

Eyewitnesses said he was escorted out of the building and put into a car by several men who appeared to be plainclothes police officers, the groups said. Police said at the time no one had been taken away.

Huang said he did not know about Ji's activities during the Games. Ji was arrested on Sept. 18 on the criminal charges and sentenced on Jan. 7, he said.

Telephones rang unanswered at the Taijiang district people's court in Fujian's capital of Fuzhou, where Ji was sentenced. His cellphone was turned off.