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US Dismayed Over Sentencing of Chinese Dissident

The United States is expressing dismay over the sentencing of prominent Chinese activist Hu Jia to three-and-a-half years in prison on subversion charges. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it will not affect the U.S. role in the Beijing Olympics. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration had repeatedly raised the case of Hu Jia at high levels with the Chinese government, most recently in February when Secretary Rice met her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing.

It was Rice who took the lead in responding to the sentencing, with the Secretary calling the action deeply disturbing and contrary to the interests of the rule of law, human rights and to the interests of China itself.

At a press event on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Bucharest, the Secretary made clear the verdict does not auger well for the pending renewal of a formal U.S.-Chinese human rights dialogue.

"One of the reasons to restart a human rights dialogue, to which the Chinese agreed after the suspension of that dialogue for some time, is to have a place where we can bring up not just individual cases but also structural issues about what kinds of things are considered criminal in China that in most of the world would not be considered so," she said. "And so this is a long process, we do it respectfully with China. But there is no doubt this is a decision that is deeply disturbing to us and we are communicating that to the Chinese authorities."

Hu Jia, found guilty of what the Chinese news agency said was incitement to subvert state power, had urged visitors coming to Beijing for the summer Olympics not to forget Chinese human rights abuses amid the pageantry of the games.

His sentencing and China's crackdown on Tibetan protesters last month have spurred new calls from rights activists and others for a boycott of the games.

Rice, in her Bucharest remarks, said President Bush still plans to attend the ceremonial opening of the games, but that U.S. participation does not mean a diminution of its human rights concern.

"The president has spoken to the fact that this is a sporting event," she said. "But we have also said that we take seriously our obligation to talk to the Chinese about human rights before, during and after. And I might just make one other point. This is also going to be a big event not just to the regime. This is going to be a big event for the Chinese people. And whatever one thinks of the behavior of the regime, even at times like this, the Chinese people need to know that the United States and the American people support their emergence on the world stage."

Amnesty International said in a statement it considers Hu Jia a prisoner of conscience and called for his immediate, unconditional release.

The New York-based rights group urged the International Olympic Committee, and world leaders with a stake in the 2008 games, to publicly express concern about his plight and that of other Chinese activists silenced before the games.

Asked here whether U.S. Olympic attendees might boycott opening ceremonies or otherwise manifest human rights concerns, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said individual Olympic participants or fans will have to make their own decisions about what is appropriate to do.