China quake dissident jailed for 3 years: Family

Last Updated: Monday, November 23, 2009 - 12:12

Beijing: Chinese dissident Huang Qi was sentenced to three years` jail on Monday on charges of illegally possessing state secrets, his wife said, decrying the verdict as revenge for his activism after last year`s huge earthquake.

Huang was sentenced in a court in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province where the earthquake on May 12 last year killed at least 80,000 people, including children crushed in schools that collapsed.

The verdict was another sign that China`s ruling Communist Party is in no mood to relax political controls following last week`s visit by US President Barack Obama, who pressed the government on human rights.

Huang, a veteran human rights campaigner, was detained in June last year after offering help to parents protesting that schools felled by the quake were made vulnerable by shoddy and corrupt building practices.

The government has said that 5,335 schoolchildren died in the earthquake or remain missing.

Huang`s wife, Zeng Li, who attended the hearing, said he received the maximum sentence for charges of illegally possessing state secrets, but the court and prosecutors never said what secrets he was accused of holding.

"They still won`t say what the specific charge is, not even at the verdict. They just spoke of documents related to a certain matter," Zeng said.

"I think it was revenge for the earthquake and his other work. But the court would not even give me a copy of the verdict."

China`s secrets and subversion laws are vaguely worded, giving authorities broad scope for defining actions critical of the government as crimes. The courts run by the ruling Communist Party rarely reject prosecutors` cases.

US President Obama last week raised general hopes for improved human rights while in China. But the sentencing of Huang and other recent actions suggested the Party is unlikely to make concessions to dissidents and human rights critics, even with pressure from the West.

Last week, Zhou Yongjun, a student leader of China`s 1989 pro-democracy movement who has long lived in the United States, went on trial in Sichuan province on fraud charges, which his family said were concocted.

Huang, 46, embraced many causes that riled Communist Party officials. He ran his own Tianwang Human Rights Centre and a website (http://www.64tianwang.com) critical of the Communist Party`s restrictions on political rights.

He was already convicted in 2003 of "inciting subversion" and released from jail in 2005.

Supporters of Huang were kept out of the courtroom for the verdict, and he was not allowed to say anything after a judge announced the sentencing, said Zeng.

"I shouted out that we wanted to appeal, but they didn`t allow him to say anything and dragged him away," she said.

An official in the Wuhou District Court in Chengdu, which delivered the verdict, refused to comment on the case.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, November 23, 2009 - 12:12

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