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2/16/03 - CHINA SENTENCE CONCERNS U.S. - 2003-02-20

China has sentenced pro-democracy activist Wang Bingzhang [wahng beeng-jahng] to life in prison. The charges are said to involve espionage and terrorism. But Chinese authorities kept Mr. Wang’s trial closed to the public and have not provided evidence to back up the charges against him.

Wang Bingzhang began speaking out for human rights as a student in China in the 1970s. He left China in 1979, lived briefly in Canada, and then settled in New York in 1982, later becoming a U.S. legal permanent resident. In early 1998, Mr. Wang sneaked into China to try to help in the establishment of the China Democracy Party. But he was detained by Chinese authorities and deported. Most of the others involved in the China Democracy Party were given long prison terms, and the party was banned.

In June 2002, Wang Bingzhang traveled to Vietnam with two other Chinese activists. His family and colleagues say the three had planned to meet with Chinese labor activists near the Vietnam-China border. It is not clear what happened next, but on July 3rd, they turned up in the custody of authorities in China. Later, Mr. Wang’s companions, a French resident and a Chinese citizen living in the U.S., were released.

Many questions about Mr. Wang’s case remain unanswered. For the six months that he was apparently detained in China, Chinese authorities denied knowing of his whereabouts. Questions have also been raised about his treatment during this period.

But the most important question is this: What basis does China claim to have for charging a pro-democracy activist with terrorism? There can be no excuse for terrorism, no matter what the cause. But at the same time, no government has a right to use the issue of terrorism as a pretext to violate human rights, including freedom of speech and expression.

The war on terrorism, as U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “must not be misused to repress legitimate political grievances or dissent.” It is time for China to tell the truth about Wang Bingzhang.