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China to Issue Verdict on British Espionage Case - 2004-03-03

Authorities in China's Guangdong province will issue a verdict in a few days against a British citizen charged with espionage. The man is one of three people arrested last year in China while traveling on Hong Kong travel documents.

The three detainees are ethnically Chinese from Hong Kong, but also hold British passports.

Hong Kong news media reported Wednesday that all three worked for China's state-owned news organization Xinhua. They are accused of selling classified material to British intelligence agencies over a period of about 10 years.

They were visiting China's Guangdong province when they were arrested in January of last year. While the men hold British passports, it appears they are being treated as Chinese nationals because they crossed the border using their Hong Kong travel documents.

The British Consulate in Hong Kong says at least one of the men, Chan Yu-lam was charged with espionage.

A spokesman from the British Embassy in Beijing confirmed that Mr. Chan was tried in late February and that his verdict and sentence will be read out on Friday. The spokesman says British diplomats were denied access to the trial and sentencing.

"The embassy was aware of the trial and as we would do for all British citizens we would try to get access to the trial," he said. "In this case that wasn't possible... We are in touch with the families of the three people who've been detained. And we're trying to get access to the verdict and sentencing on Friday."

Human rights groups say that if Mr. Chan is found guilty he could face the death penalty. However, foreign passport holders found guilty of espionage are often expelled after being sentenced. Chinese citizens are less likely to be released.

China's laws on espionage are unclear and often information that has been published in Chinese state-owned media can later be classified as state secrets. Even historical documents and figures that were once made public, as well as discussions of historical events, can be suddenly reclassified as sensitive.

A U.S. newspaper earlier reported that at least one of the men worked for Xinhua from 1988 and 1995, before Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty after 150 years of British colonial rule.

News media in Hong Kong identified the two other men as Liu Lin and Wei Pingyuan.