Peking stands by dissident's jail sentence

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A 14-year jail sentence for China's most prominent pro-democracy dissident, Wei Jingsheng, was upheld yesterday by Peking's appeal court amid signs that a combative Chinese government has embarked on a campaign to head off international criticism at the UN Human Rights Commission session in Geneva next March.

A spokesman for the Peking Higher People's Court, speaking after the closed court session, said: "The court upheld the original verdict. After this verdict, according to the law, he will be handed over to prison authorities to serve his sentence." Mr Wei was sentenced earlier this month after being found guilty of trying to subvert the government.

Mr Wei's trial prompted widespread international condemnation, but there was no hope of the sentence being revoked on appeal. Chinese trials, let alone appeals, are virtually rubber-stamping processes for verdicts that have already been decided. In 1994, according to official figures, only 0.39 per cent of those tried were found innocent.

Yesterday also saw the failed appeal of a former planning official in Shenzhen, south China, who was immediately executed by firing squad. Wang Jianye was found guilty in April of bribery and embezzlement involving more than $1m (pounds 600,000). He was extradited from Thailand in September 1994 after Chinese officials told the Thai authorities that he would not be executed, according to Mr Wang's wife.

The Chinese government these days appears immune to international pressure over human rights abuses, and is adopting an increasingly aggressive posture ahead of the Geneva meeting. Since 1990, China has faced an annual motion, sponsored by the United States, condemning its human rights record, although these have so far been defeated because China has lobbied support from developing countries.

Sensing that the Wei Jingsheng trial is likely to make the next vote even closer, the State Council yesterday published a 23,000-word manifesto, "The Progress of Human Rights in China", in which it lambasted the Geneva motions as "anti-China plots of the West".

The document praised China's commitment to human rights. Citizens "enjoy various civil and political rights according to law", it claimed. "Freedom of speech, of the press, assembly, association, marching and demonstration is guaranteed," it added.

In a section on the judiciary which Mr Wei is unlikely to have the opportunity to read, the document states: "Those who hold differing political views, but have committed no act endangering state security, have committed no crime." More pertinent, from Mr Wei's point of view, is the line that "prisoners are organised to participate in whatever labour they are capable of".

The Chinese Communist Party's riposte to the West has always been that the country gives priority to economic development and political stability. In the latest document, only one sentence admits to any shortcomings in human rights in China: "Some human rights situations are not so satisfactory because of the limitations of history and level of development."

China published its last cabinet report on human rights in November 1991, in an attempt to improve its image after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989.