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China jails writer for six years

Latest victim of crackdown on online democracy

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A Chinese writer who published essays questioning the Beijing regime online has been sentenced to six years imprisonment.

Zhang Jianhong, who wrote under the pen name Li Hong, was arrested and charged with "incitement to subvert state power" last September in a crackdown on cyber-dissidents. The punishment was handed down on Monday by a court in Ningbo, in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

Zhang, 48, was founder and editor-in-chief of Chinese language humanitarian website aiqinhai.org, and a frequent contributor to The Epoch Times, a New York-based news organisation which publishes independent reports from inside China in multiple languages. He spent two years in prison for his part in the 1989 student democracy movement which was crushed by the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

The Epoch Times reports that authorities cited 63 articles written by Zhang, many highlighting the plight of jailed lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had spoken out against Beijing's treatment of followers of the outlawed spritual movement Falun Gong. Campaigners accuse authorities of harvesting organs from imprisoned Falun Gong followers.

Confirming that he will appeal the conviction, Zhang's lawyer told Reuters: "The accusations that Li Hong attacked the government through his essays is total nonsense. All he did was to exercise his freedom of speech guaranteed in China's constitution."

September's arrests included Zhang's fellow dissident writers Yang Maodong and Chen Shuqing, whose fates are unknown.

According to government-controlled news agency Xinhua, via free journalism campaign Reporters Without Borders, the court "showed clemency" in sentencing Zhang to six years because he "expressed remorse" for his writings. The Paris-based charity says China abuses free speech more than any other nation, with at least 32 journalists and 50 other internet dissenters in custody.

In the last year, Reporters Without Borders has been a vocal critic of Yahoo!'s actions in China, which have included handing over details of users critical of the regime. ®

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