China Sentences American Geologist to 8 years in Prison for Stealing State Secrets

A naturalized American geologist has been sentenced to eight years in China on charges of providing state secrets to his U.S. company. The Washington Post reports:

Xue Feng, 44, a naturalized American who works for a U.S. energy consulting firm, was charged with trying to buy a database that reportedly showed the location and condition of oil and wells belonging to China’s government-owned National Petroleum Corp.

In other countries, such information would normally not be considered particularly sensitive. But China in recent years has shown a increasing willingness to use its catchall state secrecy laws — usually invoked in matters of national security — to protect what it considers the trade secrets of its state run companies, particularly in the all-important energy sector. In March Stern Hu, an Australian working for the mining firm Rio Tinto, was convicted in Shanghai of stealing commercial secrets and bribery relating to China’s iron ore purchases; Hu received a 10-year sentence.

Xue, who was arrested in November 2007, claimed he was tortured while in detention, including being burned on his arms with lit cigarettes and bashed in the head. His case had attracted high-level American attention, with President Obama raising his concerns when he visited China last year. The case was a test of the administration’s “quiet diplomacy” approach of bringing up human rights issues in China.

And from the Economist blog:

Criminal defendants in China enjoy little in the way of guaranteed access to legal counsel, rights to call their own witnesses, or the opportunity to challenge evidence and testimony against them. Seldom do Chinese criminal-court proceedings end with anything other than a guilty verdict. For the nine years ending in 2006, the national rate of conviction in first-instance criminal cases stood at over 99%.

Its predictable result notwithstanding, Mr Xue’s case was far from typical. For one thing, the American ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, was in attendance at Beijing’s Number One Intermediate People’s Court when the sentence was announced. For another, the wheels of justice turned more slowly than usual this time. The verdict came down more than 31 months after Mr Xue’s initial detention in November 2007, after numerous false starts and postponements, in apparent violation of China’s own laws governing the time allowed for prosecutors to conclude a case.

Mr Xue’s family alleges that he was repeatedly beaten and tortured while in official custody—they say that police stubbed out cigarettes on his bare arms. Sadly the scenes they describe are all too common in cases like his.

See also an article from the New York Times.

July 5, 2010 8:45 AM
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