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China Gives Life Sentence to Top U.S.-Based Dissident

Democracy advocate is convicted of espionage and terrorism. Details of arrest are mysterious.

February 10, 2003|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — A prominent U.S.-based Chinese dissident has been convicted on espionage and terrorism charges and sentenced to life in prison, China's state-run media reported today.

Wang Bingzhang, a veteran democracy activist who lives in New York, was found guilty of spying for Taiwan and "organizing and leading a terrorist group," the official New China News Agency said. It did not elaborate.

Wang was officially arrested in southern China in December. But friends had reported him missing six months earlier, after he went to Vietnam to meet with Chinese labor activists.

He disappeared soon after, prompting colleagues to accuse Beijing of sending operatives to kidnap him.

After Wang's arrest, state media said he and two companions had actually been "rescued" by Chinese police in July in Guangxi province, which borders Vietnam. Reports said Wang and his friends were found bound and blindfolded in a temple, where they had been dumped because they could not pay the $10-million ransom demanded by kidnappers who had abducted them in Vietnam in June.

Wang was transferred to Guangdong province and put "under surveillance" while authorities investigated him, state media said. He was formally arrested in the city of Shenzhen on Dec. 5 and went on trial last month.

Wang, 55, a permanent U.S. resident, has been an outspoken and controversial advocate for democracy in China. In 1982 in New York, he founded the Chinese Alliance for Democracy, an umbrella group for exiled dissidents, and started a political journal, China Spring.

Five years ago, Wang slipped into China to meet with dissidents and rejuvenate the democracy movement by forming an underground political party. He was caught and expelled. Overseas dissidents accused him of imperiling colleagues in China; at least 15 of his contacts were arrested after his deportation.

After his arrest, Chinese media branded Wang a spy who "stole state secrets" for Taiwan beginning in the early 1980s. Authorities also alleged that Wang had posted articles on the Internet supporting terrorism.

By trying him on charges of endangering state security -- a catchall charge often used to lock up dissidents -- the government virtually ensured that Wang would receive a heavy sentence. The law lets authorities conduct trials in secret and curtail most of a defendant's legal rights.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing had no immediate comment.

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