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Cyber-dissident Yang Jianli sentenced to five years in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - On 13 May 2004, United States (US) resident Yang Jianli was sentenced to five years in prison for "espionage" and "illegally entering Chinese territory", after spending more than two years in prison awaiting his sentencing.

On 2 May, journalist Liu Shui was sentenced without trial to two years in a reeducation camp. Officially charged with soliciting the services of several prostitutes, Liu Shui was in fact sentenced for posting sensitive material on the Internet, particularly concerning the Tiananmen Square massacre.

RSF reacted angrily to the sentences. "The Chinese authorities have not let up in their crackdown on free expression. To sentence Yang Jianli for spying for Taiwan and Liu Shui for a moral issue is the height of absurdity; a clumsy cover for gagging political dissidents," the organisation said.

Yang Jianli, now aged 40, was expelled from China after taking part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. He became a permanent US resident and created the 21st Century Foundation for China, which works to promote democracy in China. The cyber-dissident is also editor-in-chief of the dissident online review "Yibao" (

Yang Jianli was arrested in April 2002 when he returned to China, using a friend's passport, to investigate workers' strikes in the country's northeastern region. On 4 August 2003, at the end of his trial, the ruling was postponed.

Under the Chinese Criminal Code, the authorities had four months to decide on a sentence. The deadline passed five months ago, making Yang Jianli's continued detention an infringement of Chinese law. As his sentence was announced, the cyber-dissident argued that his trial broke Chinese law and that he had been detained illegally for 164 days.

Following the announcement of the verdict, Yang Jianli's wife, Christina Fu, a US citizen who lives with their two children in Massachusetts, told RSF, "I am very sad. I know my husband is not a spy. I also know that it could have been worse, but I was hoping he would be expelled. His father is 90 and he can't be sure he will see him again. We are going to hold a press conference in Washington very soon to seek help from US and international authorities." She said no decision had yet been taken about an appeal but that it was "probable."

Freelance journalist Liu Shui, aged 37, was arrested in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, southern China. He worked for the "Southern Metropolis News" and the "Shenzhen Evening News". Sentenced to two years in a reeducation camp, he was punished under a high-speed procedure used in cases of minor offences.

Liu Shui was previously imprisoned for 15 months after taking part in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, for three years in 1994 for "counter-revolutionary propaganda", then briefly again in 1998. On 19 March 2004, another cyber-dissident, Ma Yalian, was sentenced to 18 months in a work reeducation camp.

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