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Chinese dissident hopes to appeal 11-year sentence

Wang Dan convicted after short trial

October 30, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 a.m. EST (1545 GMT)

In this story:

From Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel

BEIJING (CNN) -- Prominent dissident and former student leader Wang Dan was convicted Wednesday of plotting to overthrow the Chinese government and sentenced to 11 years in prison. The verdict and sentence were denounced by human rights activists, and the 27-year-old pro-democracy activist told family members he wanted to appeal.


family

"Everything he's done has been within the bounds of Chinese law," his father, Wang Xianzeng, whispered to CNN on Wednesday, accompanied by his wife and daughter as they walked to court to plead Wang Dan's innocence. His mother, a 61-year-old museum researcher who has no background in law, participated in the trial as one of two defense lawyers.

Because the Beijing government says their son is a criminal, the Wangs are routinely harassed by police and take a huge risk each time they talk to journalists. They took the risk on Wednesday because "we hope that Wang Dan will be found not guilty," his father explained.


Entire trial took four hours

In a trial and sentencing that took just four hours, they got their answer, but not the one they wanted. In addition to the 11-year prison term, the Beijing Number One Intermediate People's Court also sentenced Wang to an additional two years without political rights. He had faced a maximum penalty of death and a minimum 10-year sentence.

"It is very unreasonable... it is too hasty," Wang Xianzeng said afterward. "Wang Dan said he wants to appeal... we will definitely appeal," he said after a 30-minute meeting with his son following the conviction.

police

Most journalists kept out

From beginning to end, human rights groups charged that the guilty verdict in Wang Dan's trial, like those in almost all Chinese criminal trials, was predetermined.

Although the government claims the trial was a public one, no impartial observers were allowed to attend and police kept international journalists far away from the courthouse.


Active in 1989 pro-democracy movement

movement

Wang, a leader of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, had been one of the few members of China's dwindling band of dissidents not in exile or serving a long term in detention or prison.

He has already served three and a half years in prison for counter-revolutionary crimes, or subversion, for his role in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations that were crushed by the army in June 1989 with heavy loss of life.(19 sec./1MB QuickTime movie)movie icon

He was politically active again after his parole in 1993, defying police surveillance to join a daring appeal to Communist leaders for the release of those still jailed for their part in the 1989 protests.

Almost no dissidents left

Human rights groups said the verdict was the result of a show trial that blatantly violated Chinese law and international standards. There are virtually no dissidents left in China today, says Robin Munro of Human Rights Watch/Asia. (15 sec./342K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

Munro's claim of government intimidation appears to be borne out by a random survey of Chinese residents. When a CNN reporter stopped people on a Beijing street Wednesday and asked what they thought about Wang's trial, most walked away, saying they were too busy to comment.

Human rights groups are calling on governments around the world to postpone all trade missions and high-level visits to China until all political prisoners are released. But that's not expected to happen.

In the months to come, China's diplomatic calendar is already booked with high-level visits from major Western countries, including one next month by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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