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China 18 February 2003

Cyber-dissident sentenced to seven years in prison

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today strongly condemned the jailing for seven years of cyber-dissident Tao Haidong for posting material on the Internet criticism that allegedly incited people to subvert the government.

It said his imprisonment brought to at least 17 the number of cyber-dissidents sentenced to prison terms for expressing their opinions online and called for his immediate release and the dropping of charges against him.

The sentencing of Tao Haidong, 45, was disclosed by the official People’s Court Daily on 16 February. It said he had been arrested at his home in Urumqi, in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, on 9 July last year, while he was online. Officials accused him of spying and said he had "smeared and slandered" the ruling Communist Party and the country’s leaders in three articles he had posted.

The local press accused him of receiving 500 euros for having written subversive material. He was reportedly detained in secret for several months and his trial began on 8 January this year before the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court. The date of his sentencing was not known.

According to Human Rights in China, Tao Haidong published a book in 1999 called "Visions of a new human race," in which he said the Chinese economy was on the brink of collapse and called the country the last great bastion of feudalism in the modern world.

As a result of the book, which called for democratic change in China, he was sentenced to three years at hard labour and then freed in January 2001. Since then, he has been active on the Internet and often took part in online discussions without using a pseudonym.

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