Prison sentence for Chinese dissident provokes US protests

A Chinese court sentenced a US-based political activist to five years in prison yesterday on charges of spying for Taiwan in a case that has prompted protests in Washington.

Yang Jianli, who was detained in 2002, was also convicted of an illegal border crossing after a trial in Beijing, the official news agency said.

Yang, a Chinese citizen with permanent US residency, was in China to meet dissidents and laid-off workers when he was stopped while boarding an airline flight using a false ID card.

He will decide within five days whether to appeal, once a written verdict is issued, said his lawyer, Mo Shaoping. "I entered a not guilty plea for him," Mo said. "I do not agree with this verdict." The Chinese government has not released any of its evidence against Yang.

Yang is one of a series of foreign-based Chinese who have been convicted of spying for Taiwan. His sentence includes the two years he has been held since he was detained on 26 April, 2002, in Kunming.

Yang, 40, lives in Boston and runs the Foundation for China in the 21st Century, an advocacy group calling for political change in China. His family said he was using a friend's identity card to travel because the Chinese government refused to renew his passport.

Last month, members of the US Congress issued a letter addressed to Chinese President Hu Jintao calling Yang's detention "extraordinarily inhumane". But China has rejected the protests as an "interference in the judicial process".

Yang's supporters and family have appealed to the US and Chinese legislatures for help in gaining his release. His wife, Christina Fu, says he has been denied exercise and reading materials.

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