China defends geologist's sentencing

July 7, 2010 at 12:46 AM
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BEIJING, July 7 (UPI) -- China defended its legal system from widespread criticism for the sentencing a U.S. geologist to eight years in prison for allegedly breaking state secret laws.

Despite U.S. pleas for leniency, Xue Feng, 44, a Chinese-born U.S. citizen, was sentenced Monday by a Beijing court on the charge stemming from a purchase of a database on China's oil industry. Xue, who had spent about 30 months in jail before his trial started, said that during his detention he had been tortured with lighted cigarettes.

After the sentencing, the U.S. ambassador to China expressed dismay and called for his immediate release.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the judicial departments had handled the case strictly based on law and that the defendant's legal rights were guaranteed, China Daily reported.

The Voice of America reported many human rights groups, questioning the Chinese judicial system's fairness, have said suspects often are tortured and they have only limited rights to present evidence.

The report said Xue's sentence comes in the wake of a March court ruling giving a 10-year sentence to Stern Hu, manager of the Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, accused of bribe-taking and possessing commercial secrets.

Tong Wei, the attorney for Xue, told CNN the ruling was "harsh."

"The key question in the case is the definition of 'state secrets,'" the attorney said.

The report said Xue argued during his closed door trial that he was going to make public his information on the oil sector but Chinese authorities said he had endangered China's national security.

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