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Chinese Court Sentences Earthquake Activist to 3 Years in Jail


A court in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu has convicted a veteran human rights activist on state secrets charges and sentenced him to jail for three years.

A court in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu has convicted a veteran human rights activist on state secrets charges and sentenced him to jail for three years. The activist was investigating the collapse of schools in Sichuan province's earthquake zone.

The massive earthquake that struck southwestern China's Sichuan province in May 2008 left 90,000 people dead or missing. More than 5,000 of the dead were children.

Forty-six-year-old Huang Qi is a dissident who gathered information on faulty construction of school buildings, which critics say contributed to the children's deaths.

Chinese authorities arrested Huang last year, and on Monday sentenced him to three years in jail, on charges of "possessing state secrets."

Phelim Kine is an Asia researcher for the group Human Rights Watch.

"His case is emblematic of the real perils of China's dangerously ambiguous state secrets laws," Kine said. "The Chinese government uses the state secrets laws to silence anyone whose thoughts, opinions, agendas, differ with that of the Chinese government."

Kine says Huang was looking into what has become a taboo topic in China - allegations that improper government standards or improper construction by state-owned companies contributed to the deaths of thousands of children.

He says a similar case involves environmental activist, Tan Zuoren, who was trying to compile a list of names of child quake victims. Tan's trial was in August and now he is also facing a sentence on subversion charges.

"Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren were acting on behalf of thousands of victims, nameless victims, of the massive Sichuan earthquake in 2008," noted Kine. "And they were acting on behalf of parents of dead victims, who have also been subject to intimidation, to harassment, to detention, for merely asking questions such as why did my son and daughter die?"

Yao, a Sichuan resident who lost his 17-year-old daughter when her school collapsed, said he tried, unsuccessfully, to protest.

Yao says as soon as he and other parents arrived at the local government office, they were all - in his words - persuaded to go home.

Xie, who lost his 17-year-old son, said he is not satisfied with the government's answers.

Xie says the government and individuals like him have different opinions about the cause of death. He says the government blames only the earthquake.

There also are reports that Chinese authorities are looking into the financial records of internationally famous artist Ai Weiwei. Ai had encountered difficulties in his efforts to document the names of all the child victims.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang was asked about these cases at a regular briefing Tuesday.

Qin says on the cases just mentioned, Chinese authorities will handle that according to law.

Also Tuesday, in another case largely involving the safety of children, Chinese authorities executed two people for their roles in a tainted milk scandal that led to the deaths of at least six infants and sickened up to 300,000 others.

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