Lawyers for a Chinese journalist who was convicted of online subversion say he is staging a hunger strike. The case is attracting attention from human rights groups.

A lawyer for Xu Wei said he began his hunger strike last Wednesday, after receiving a sentence of 10 years in prison on subversion charges.

Xu and three of his friends are among 30 people arrested in the latest crackdown on Internet dissent. The four friends, all in their 30s, set up the "New Youth Society" in May 2000. It was an online forum for discussing social and political reforms.

A Hong Kong-based human rights group said China accuses Xu of posting essays with titles like "China's Democracy is Fake" and "Be a New Citizen, Remake China."

Another group, Human Rights in China, Xu's decision to start a hunger strike follows his being beaten and tortured with electric shocks to his genitals.

Dan Kubiske, a Vice Chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists, said unfortunately, such harsh treatment is not uncommon for imprisoned journalists. "From what I have seen and heard over the past 10 years of looking at China, this is normal behavior," he said.

China's crackdown on Xu and other online dissidents is a reminder of Beijing's paradoxical relationship to the internet.

The government estimates more than 48 million people are online, and Beijing is encouraging the expansion of internet access for business and educational purposes.

But experts say Beijing eavesdrops heavily on traffic in internet chat rooms, and has in place what some critics call "the great firewall of China" to block out online media critical of the government. Last year, China announced it was closing 150,000 unlicensed internet cafes, and in September went so far as to block the popular search engine, "Google."

Mr. Kubiske said China's increasing profile within the international community may be the best hope for imprisoned journalists like Xu. "Every time an event comes up that the rest of the world is involved in, Beijing starts releasing political prisoners or making concessions," he said.

In the meantime, Beijing officials say Xu Wei has begun to drink water, but there is no word on the status of efforts to end his hunger strike, or change his sentence.