* Voices concern at fourth case in month
* Calls for upholding right to peaceful expression
GENEVA, Jan 20 (Reuters) - The United Nations voiced deep concern on Friday at China's sentencing of a writer to 10 years in prison for subversion and called for a halt to what it said was a trend of "severe suppression of dissent" in the country.
A court in Wuhan in central China has sentenced writer Li Tie to 10 years jail on subversion charges, for writing essays that urged people to defend their rights, a relative told Reuters on Thursday.
"The very harsh sentencing of human rights defender Li Tie is the fourth verdict against a prominent human rights defender in China since last December. We are very disturbed by this trend of severe suppression of dissent in the country, which appears to be designed to intimidate," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"We urge the authorities to stop penalising human rights defenders for peacefully exercising their fundamental human right to the freedom of expression," he added.
The office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has raised the latest cases with Chinese authorities and called for anyone detained for peaceful expression of dissent to be unconditionally and swiftly released, Colville said.
The sentences suggest a crackdown on dissidents is intensifying ahead of the anniversary of online calls for rallies inspired by the "Arab Spring" and before a leadership transition later in the year. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff)