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World - Asia/Pacific

Chinese jailed for disclosing e-mail addresses

January 20, 1999
Web posted at: 12:47 p.m. EST (1747 GMT)

SHANGHAI, China (CNN) -- A Chinese engineer who supplied thousands of e-mail addresses to a dissident publication has been sentenced to two years in prison.

The case of 30-year-old Lin Hai has broad implications for the future of the Internet in the world's most populous country. Lin, the owner of a computer software company, was jailed on charges of attempting to undermine the state.

Lin sent about 30,000 e-mail addresses to VIP Reference, a U.S.-based, pro-democracy publication that China's Communist rulers consider a hostile international organization.

His wife, Xu Hong, said a three-judge panel handed down the sentence in a closed-door court session attended by four of Lin's family members. Lin's jail term was shorter than the 10-year sentences handed out to some dissidents recently, but she condemned the term as excessively harsh.

"It is heavier than I had hoped for," Xu said. "When he is innocent, even one year is too long."

The number of Internet users in China has grown dramatically in recent years, with official estimates now topping 2.1 million -- roughly triple the number online in 1997.

The Chinese approach those numbers warily, considering the Internet a potential threat to state power. China routinely blocks major news organizations' sites and monitors the electronic world for subversive political material and pornography.

VIP Reference says it sends information to 250,000 e-mail accounts in China from various e-mail addresses in the United States. Lin argued he supplied the addresses under a business arrangement, and he did not know VIP Reference was considered a subversive group.

Lin was also fined 10,000 yuan -- about $1,200 -- and had desktop and notebook computers confiscated. His company is out of business. He was also stripped of his political rights for one year, a largely symbolic penalty.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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