Chinese dissident jailed for 11 years

Peking on trial: Authorities shows disregard for world opinion on human rights with sentencing of Tiananmen Square leader
Not one witness was called in person, and the trial took just three hours. But Judge Cai Yue yesterday declared China's judicial process as "open, fair and legitimate" as she pronounced the 27-year-old pro-democracy activist, Wang Dan, guilty of "conspiring to subvert China's government" and sent him to jail for 11 years.

Mr Wang's father, Wang Xianzeng, speaking last night, criticised the proceedings as "very unreasonable ... it is too hasty". He said his son had been "very rational and calm" in court and would appeal against the verdict, although this is bound to fail.

The parents were allowed to meet their son for 30 minutes after the trial. "Wang Dan thought that all he had done was above board ... for China's democracy. His conscience is clear," said his father.

Mr Wang's "crimes" amounted to writing articles critical of the Chinese government for the foreign press, receiving funds from "overseas hostile forces" and exiled dissident organisations, giving financial aid to families of jailed dissidents, and trying to set up an "opposition force" by contacting other dissidents inside China.

"By thus inciting turmoil he sought to create public opinion in support of the overthrow of the state power and the socialist system," said the prosecution, which demanded a sentence of "extra severity".

There was never a chance Wang Dan would not be found guilty. He had already served three and a half years in prison for being one of the student leaders in the spring 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement. After his release in February 1993, Mr Wang continued to campaign for political reform and human rights, remaining a persistent thorn in China's very sensitive political side, until he was permanently detained in May 1995.

But the harshness of the sentence and the summary nature of yesterday's justice has jolted Western governments' hopes that quiet diplomacy might have any impact on China's regard for human rights. By holding the trial only three weeks before the scheduled visit of the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, Peking has demonstrated its confidence, even when snubbing Western political sensitivities over human rights.

One of the key subjects for discussion during Mr Christopher's visit will be a possible state visit to China next year by President Bill Clinton, a diplomatic prize much hankered after by President Jiang Zemin.

China's leaders are bolstered by the knowledge that their country is an emerging superpower, courted by the world's businessmen. But they are also worried about social stability, with uneven economic development exacerbated by unemployment and corruption. As a result, the Communist party is determined to maintain a tight grip while the country negotiates the next stages of economic reform.

Mr Wang's trial will be a reminder for China, and Hong Kong, that Peking's tolerance of criticism is at a low level.

The authorities yesterday did not even try to pretend Wang Dan was receiving a proper trial. Police ringed the Peking Number One Intermediate People's Court, keeping foreign journalists and Chinese several hundred yards away. Inside fewer than 20 Chinese witnessed proceedings. All requests for international observers to attend were ignored.

The trial lasted from 9am to noon. Mr Wang spoke for 20 minutes. According to his father, he admitted writing some articles, "but that this was not tantamount to a crime". Mr Wang was defended by a lawyer and by his mother. No witness was summoned by the prosecution. After a break of 30 minutes, the three judges announced the verdict and sentence at 12.30pm.

"Wang candidly confessed his activities," the official Xinhua news agency said. "His criminal fact is clear, and the evidence is conclusive." Judge Cai added: "Sufficient evidence, which includes written materials, witness accounts, recorded tape and criminal technical appraisal, were shown at court."

A study this week of Mr Wang's indictment, by Human Rights Watch Asia, presented a very different picture. Quotes from Mr Wang were taken out of context, and in one case a composite quote was stitched together from essays written more than a year apart.

What China's British trading partners had to say

Around 280 businessmen from top British companies accompanied Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine on his May trade mission to China. In the light of Chinese human rights activist Wang Dan's 11-year imprisonment, these are the reactions of some of those firms with dealings in China.

Rolls-Royce: No comment

Rover: No comment

ICI: "ICI and its predecessor companies have been involved with China for hundreds of years." The spokesman offered the view that if one conducts oneself in an ethical way in business dealings it will affect the country one is dealing with. "That is all that one can do," he concluded.

Amec: No comment

Cable & Wireless: No comment

GEC: No comment

Lucas: No comment

British Aerospace: "BA would not become involved in internal politics in an overseas country." BA did not want to discuss a specific country, saying it was "not right for individual commercial companies to take their own judgements outside the UK government advice or regulation."

Allied Domecq: No comment

BZW: No comment

Lloyd's of London: No comment

The Foreign Office yesterday proclaimed itself to be "dismayed" at the news of the 11-year sentence for the former student leader. "We urge the Chinese to show clemency and allow Wang's early release. We are considering with EU partners what further action to take."

A spokesman said "We regularly raise human rights with them."

Michael Heseltine's office did not return calls.

Compiled by Elizabeth Wine