Pro-democracy Journalist Sentenced in China

Freelance journalist Li Jianping, who made his pro-democracy viewpoints known to the world from his Internet-based post inside China, was sentenced today in a court in Shandong province to a three-year prison term for "incitement to subvert state power."

As a participant in the 1989 demonstrations at Tiananmen Square -- an event which much of the world has forgotten in the wake of China's economic expansion -- Li became the unfortunate subject of a government campaign to quash dissident opinion.

The timing of Li's sentencing was suspect, as the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) pointed out today. Li's trial began and ended last April, though under Chinese law, the court should have about 45 days to make a decision. Instead, it waited until the very day of a state visit by French President Jacques Chirac.

The group Reporters Without Borders, which has also campaigned actively in the past for the release of journalists held hostage in Iraq, stated, "This is a slap in the face for French diplomacy, which claims to be engaged in a 'constructive' dialogue on human rights, despite the lack of concrete results."

According to reports, the objection from the Chinese government does not seem to be that Li made reports to people within his own country, but instead that his pro-democracy views were accessible via the Internet, outside China's borders.

Meanwhile, just a few days earlier, Yang Xiaoqing, another Chinese reporter arrested last January after he alleged in a Chinese business publication that a state-owned enterprise had been corrupted, was convicted on a similar count as Li, but sentenced to time served and released. "Guilty but free," wrote Reporters Without Borders. "This decision is a half-measure that fails to cover up the fact that he was imprisoned for no reason."

According to IFEX, Li is the eighth Chinese Internet correspondent to receive a prison sentence this year.

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