China sentences dissident as activists expand network
Web posted at: 4:29 p.m. EST (2129 GMT)
BEIJING (CNN) -- China on Thursday sentenced a dissident to four years in prison, but in a bold act of defiance activists set up new branches of a banned political party challenging Communist rule.
A court in the eastern city of Hangzhou convicted Wang Ce, who had returned to China after living in Spain, on two charges of illegally re-entering his homeland and funding subversive activities, his wife said.
Undaunted by Wang's conviction, members of the China Democracy Party established five new party cells, expanding its nationwide network, according to a Hong Kong-based human rights group.
Wang, 49, is the latest activist jailed since mid-December in a crackdown on dissent. Five others have been sent to labor camps without trial, four on charges of hiring prostitutes.
Court officials refused to comment on Wang's case, but Chinese authorities defended his sentence.
"Wang Ce is a Chinese citizen, who illegally entered China with a forged passport and engaged in activities endangering national security," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue.
Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes has taken up Wang's case with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, urging in a recent letter a "favorable outcome" to the trial.
A Spanish diplomat in Beijing said on Thursday that Wang should be released, adding that the jail term was relatively lenient due to intervention by Matutes.
Wang's wife, Tang Xuanzhong, said her husband would appeal, but she was not optimistic that the verdict would be overturned.
"My husband is innocent and was wronged. It's political persecution," she said, speaking from her mother's home in the eastern port city of Wenzhou.
"The court did not have a shred of evidence," Tang said.
Wang is chairman of the largest overseas Chinese pro-democracy organization, the Alliance for a Democratic China. He earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Hawaii after leaving China in the early 1980s.
He was forced to defend himself at his trial because his family could not find a lawyer who would argue his innocence. He has not been allowed to meet with relatives.
Wang entered China by boat from Portuguese-run Macau in October.
The charge of funding subversion stems from a payment of $1,000 Wang made to fellow activist Wang Youcai. Tang said the money was to support Wang Youcai, who was unemployed, not to fund his political activities.
Wang Youcai was jailed for 11 years last December for subversion for his role in trying to officially register the China Democracy Party.
Two other founding members of the party, Xu Wenli and Zin Yongmin, were sentenced in December to 13 and 12 years in prison.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights said the China Democracy Party had added five new party cells, bringing to 23 the number of provinces where it is located. It said the forbidden party had more than 1,000 members.
The jailing of Wang Ce comes at an especially sensitive time for Chinese authorities.
President Jiang Zemin has vowed to "nip in the bud" threats to Communist Party rule amid fears that activists would seize on a series of politically charged anniversaries this year to press for reform.
The dates include the 10th anniversary of the June 4 massacre of protesters following demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Communist state on October 1.
Despite the efforts of authorities to clamp down on crime, since January at least seven bombing incidents in different parts of China have killed 33 people and wounded more than 100.
Political insiders say that fear of chaos has put China's leaders in a less than tolerant mood.Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon and Reuters contributed to this report. .
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