She lead the xenophobic right wing One Nation Party in Australia. Now Pauline Hanson begins a three year prison term and is gaining sympathy where once she sort votes.

Talkback radio was flooded by callers professing to oppose her political views but outraged at a no-parole sentence they believed far outweighed the seriousness of the offence and which was harsher than many imposed for violent crimes.

Hanson, aged 49, and One Nation co-founder David Ettridge, 58, were jailed on Wednesday for electoral fraud by falsely claiming 500 supporters of the party were bone fide members to qualify for registration in Queensland.

Hanson was further jailed concurrently for three years for defrauding the Queensland Electoral Office of A$500,000.

Hanson and Ettridge will appeal the sentences, imposed after Chief Judge Patsy Wolfe said the pair had brought politics into disrepute. But the severity of Hanson’s sentence shocked even some of her strongest political opponents, unleashed a wave of sympathy across a wide swathe of Australian society, and brought warnings that perceptions of martyrdom could revive the collapsed fortunes of a party built on racism and xenophobia.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, predicting a resurgence of support for One Nation, said: “I’ve got no doubt there will be people who will see her as being martyred.”

One Nation’s Queensland leader, Bill Flynn, predicted a furious voter backlash as the party’s website pushed the view that Hanson was a victim of persecution by major parties with too much to lose by allowing her to remain free.

The website said Hanson was jailed for following the same ideals as former South African President Nelson Mandela, jailed for “representing the views of the oppressed voice of South Africa”.

The News Ltd website reported wide disparities in the sentences handed down by Wolfe, hardening widespread anger at the sentences she imposed on Hanson and Ettridge.

In May, Wolfe imposed a sentence of only six months’ jail for a 52-year-old man who had molested an 11-year-old girl in her bed, and who had a history of sexual, drug and violent offences.

She sent a man to prison for 19 months for armed robbery and unlawful detention, and imposed a 12-month suspended sentence on a maintenance contractor who hit a man on the head with a glass and bit him twice during a pub fight last year, the website reported.

Talkback stations across Australia handled dozens of calls – many of them from Hanson opponents – condemning the One Nation founder’s jail term in such terms as “vicious”, “disgusting” and a “miscarriage of justice”.

In Canberra, federal Labor frontbencher Bob McMullen said the sentence was “absurdly excessive”.

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