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China Sentences Two Dissenters

July 7, 2000

BEIJING (AP) _ A Chinese court on Friday found two members of a banned opposition group guilty of subversion and sentenced them to 5 1/2 and seven years respectively, a rights group reported.

The verdicts against Xiao Shichang and Chen Zhonghe bring to at least 25 the number of China Democracy Party organizers imprisoned for subversion since the communist government began cracking down on the group less than two years ago.

Chen and Xiao were arrested last August amid widening police sweeps against key members of the group, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported.

The two men _ both steelworkers in the Yangtze River port city of Wuhan _ were accused of setting up a party branch and coordinating office in the city with the goal of overthrowing Communist Party rule, the human rights group said.

Wuhan’s Intermediate People’s Court pronounced them guilty after a 90-minute hearing, sentencing Chen, 52, to seven years in prison and Xiao, 45, to 5 1/2 years, the group said. It added that both plan to appeal.

Appeals are rarely successful in China’s spotty legal system, especially in politically sensitive trials of dissidents.

Set up two years ago, the China Democracy Party tried to register with authorities and proclaimed it wanted to work with, not against, the ruling Communist Party. By the time Chinese leaders outlawed the group five months later, it claimed to have hundreds of members in more than a dozen provinces and major cities.

Chen and Xiao were colleagues of one of the party’s most prominent organizers, Qin Yongmin. A veteran dissident, Qin was arrested in the first wave of the crackdown and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Chen’s wife, Ma Xiuzhen, and daughter, Chen Jing, fled to Thailand last September along with Xiao’s wife, Ai Tingjiao, to seek political asylum. Their requests for assistance have been turned down, and the women have been unable to find jobs, the rights group said.

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