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China's Release of Dissident Before EU Meeting Viewed as 'Goodwill Gesture' - 2003-10-28

A human rights group says China has released a political dissident five years early. At the same time, a Shanghai lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison for stealing state secrets after he took a property company to court. A spokesman for the group Human Rights in China says jailed political dissident Kang Yuchun was released five years before his 17-year prison term ended.

Mr. Kang was arrested in 1992 because of his participation in two groups connected with the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement that ended in bloodshed.

Researcher and spokesman for Human Rights in China, Nicolas Becquelin, says Mr. Kang was sentenced on a number of charges including "counter-revolutionary incitement."

"He should not have been prosecuted and sentenced in the first place," he said. "We think that Kang Yuchun's release is a kind of goodwill gesture from the Chinese government on the eve of the EU China summit."

While the group welcomed Mr. Kang's early release, it emphasized that China's actions should not be seen as easing its suppression of human rights. The group notes that eight other democracy advocates arrested in 1989 are still in prison.

Human Rights in China and other human rights groups also criticized China for the sentencing of lawyer and activist Zheng Enchong to three years in prison.

The Shanghai lawyer was charged with stealing state secrets as he fought a property developer on behalf of 500 people displaced by the development. Human rights groups say Chinese authorities used the case to dissuade lawyers from challenging property companies and to keep them from defending the thousands of residents who lose their homes to large property developments.

Mr. Becquelin says the charge of "stealing state secrets" is intentionally vague and often used to quiet dissenting voices.

"The simple fact that he was sentenced on [stealing] state secrets charges reflects very clearly that the Chinese authorities did not have anything concrete against him," said Mr. Becquelin.

Mr. Zheng's lawyer says he will appeal his client's sentence.

In another development involving a charge of stealing state secrets, a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen was released Monday two years before the end of his prison sentence.

Fong Fumin arrived in the United States after years of U.S. government demands that he be freed.