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China Courts Uphold Convictions of Journalist, Blind Activist

  • Benjamin Robertson

Chinese courts have upheld the conviction of a New York Times researcher for fraud and the prison sentence handed to a blind legal activist. As Benjamin Robertson reports from Beijing, the cases have attracted international attention, with supporters of the two men saying they are the victims of a renewed government effort to control the flow of information.

The Beijing Higher People's Court swiftly rejected an appeal by New York Times researcher Zhao Yan against his conviction for fraud.

Zhao was sentenced to three years in prison in August. He has already spent two years in jail.

His supporters say Zhao's imprisonment is punishment for a New York Times report two years ago predicting the retirement of former President Jiang Zemin as head of the country's armed forces. The New York Times has said Zhao was not responsible for breaking the story.

A charge of leaking state secrets was dropped and Zhao was convicted on a fraud charge alleging he had taken $2,500 in return for helping an official avoid a prison sentence.

Zhao's lawyer Guan Anping says the trial process was unfair as he was not allowed to produce evidence.

"The court did not let me apply to bring witnesses to court. I tried to apply in the first and second trial but they did not let me," he said.

Also on Friday, a county court in the eastern province of Shandong upheld its decision to sentence blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng to four years in jail in August for damaging property and disturbing traffic.

A higher court recently overturned Chen's conviction, on the grounds of insufficient evidence, and sent it back to the lower court.

Chen's supporters say the charges against the activist were fabricated after he documented cases of officials forcing women to have abortions and sterilizations in line with China's one-child policy.

International rights groups have expressed concern that both cases show China is trying to crack down on dissent and limit access to information.

Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong also had his appeal rejected in late November by a Beijing high court. He had been sentenced for five years on charges of spying for Taiwan. His supporters say he was collecting sensitive information in his capacity as a journalist.

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