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Chinese Court Upholds Life Sentence for US-Based Dissident - 2003-02-28

A Chinese court has upheld the conviction and life sentence of U.S.-based democracy activist Wang Bingzhang. The ruling ends the appeals process for Mr. Wang, but it is possible he will not have to serve his entire term.

Wang Bingzhang was convicted and sentenced to life on espionage and terrorism charges earlier in February.

The official Xinhua News Agency said an appeals court found that legitimate procedures had been followed at Mr. Wang's trial, and there was sufficient evidence to uphold the verdict. Mr. Wang was found guilty of spying for Taiwan, and of planning to bomb China's embassy in Thailand.

Mr. Wang is the first dissident to be convicted by China on terrorism charges, and the life term is the longest ever imposed on any pro-democracy activist. Human rights groups have charged that Beijing is using the war on terrorism as an excuse to crack down on legitimate political dissent.

Frank Lu of Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong echoed that charge. "Absolutely I don't think Wang Bingzhang is a terrorist or just a spy. He is just a dissident same as me, same as there are hundreds of dissidents in Mainland China or in America," he said.

Friday's appeals court decision is the final step in Mr. Wang's appeals process, but whether he actually serves the term remains to be seen.

Other imprisoned activists have been released early and sent into exile, usually after serving several years of their terms.

Mr. Wang himself was briefly detained and then expelled from China in 1998, after he snuck in to establish an underground opposition party.

None of the evidence against Mr. Wang has been made public, and Thai police have been quoted as saying they know nothing about the alleged bomb plot against the Chinese embassy.

The American State Department has voiced "deep concern" that Mr. Wang's trial was conducted in secret. The U.S. consulate in Guangzhou requested permission to attend Friday's appeal verdict announcement, but the request was denied.

Mr. Wang's daughter, Wang Qingyan, was quoted in California as saying she hoped the American government would put pressure on Beijing to release Mr. Wang early.