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China 19 May 2003

Webmaster Huang Qi sentenced to five years in prison

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) said today it was appalled at the "unjust" five-year prison sentence for "subversion" and incitement to overthrow the government passed on Huang Qi, founder-editor of the website, who has already been in jail for nearly three years.

The intermediate people’s court in Chengdu (in the southwestern province of Sichuan) announced the sentence on 9 May. His wife, Zeng Li, told the press freedom organisation she had not been informed of the court sitting and had still not been able to visit her husband.

Reporters Without Borders called on Chinese President Hu Jintao to free him immediately and noted that the sentence came as the world’s attention was focused elsewhere, on the SARS epidemic. Huang was arrested on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the 4 June 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre after some articles about the massacre written by exiled dissidents were posted on his website.

At the latest court hearing, he refused to sign the papers concerning the verdict but the judge said it would be applied anyway. His two lawyers, Gao Xiaoping and Fan Jun, were present but his family were not and only learned about the verdict a week later. His wife said the jail term would run from when he was arrested, on 5 June 2000, and that he would therefore be due for release in June 2005.

Lawyer Gao managed to see Huang today at the no.1 detention centre in Chengdu today and was allowed to talk to him through a glass window put up as part of anti-SARS measures. He told Zeng Li that he was "thin" but in good spirits.

The other lawyer, Fan Jun, called the verdict "unjust" and criticised how long it had taken to be announced. Zeng again stressed that her husband was not responsible for the news that appeared on his website, which is hosted by a server in the United States, and noted that the legal procedure had been very secretive right from the start. She said she would file an appeal today since the judge had given only 10 days for one to be filed.

Huang’s former cellmates say he has been regularly beaten and that the prison authorities refused to give him medicine he needed.

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