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RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SENTENCED TO JAIL AHEAD OF OLYMPICS

IFEX members have condemned the three-and-a-half-year jail sentence given to prominent Chinese activist Hu Jia, which they say is a way for the authorities to take a high-profile activist out of action before the Beijing Olympics.

Hu, a Beijing-based human rights, environmental and AIDS activist, was arrested on 27 December 2007 and later charged with inciting subversion against the Chinese government. His only crime was to speak "honestly about the tightening chokehold on dissent ahead of the Olympic Games," Human Rights Watch said at the time. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and one year's denial of political rights on 3 April.

Hu had made comments to foreign media and published articles on Boxun, a Chinese website based in the U.S., that were critical of China's human rights record, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

He was kept under house arrest for 214 days last year, keeping contact with other activists and foreign reporters through the telephone and Internet and exposing China's repression of human rights defenders through his blogs and videos.

"The jail sentence imposed on Hu Jia, based on opaque charges, again highlights that China's authorities intend to stamp out and silence dissent regardless of their commitments to do otherwise ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games in August," says IFJ.

Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, also an outspoken human rights advocate, and their baby daughter remain under house arrest in Beijing.

PEN American Center and PEN Canada have appealed directly to President Hu Jintao to intervene in Hu's case to secure his release, as well as the release of the 37 other colleagues who are in prison for "insisting on their freedom to write."

Hu's sentence follows a five-year jail term handed down last month to human rights activist Yang Chunlin, the leader of the "We want human rights, not the Olympic Games" campaign, on a charge of inciting subversion of state authority.

According to Human Rights Watch, state security convictions rose by almost 20 per cent between 2006 and 2007. "Charging people with 'inciting subversion' has become the weapon of choice to silence dissent ahead of the Games," says Human Rights Watch.

On 6 January, more than 100 human rights lawyers, writers and activists wrote an open letter to the Chinese Congress calling for the subversion law to be amended, reports IFJ.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging European governments to freeze dialogue with China, and calling on heads of state to boycott the 8 August opening ceremony of the Beijing Games.

Visit these links:
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/4qk6lj
- IFJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92229/
- PEN Canada and PEN American Center: http://www.pencanada.ca/media/Hu_Jia_conviction_release.pdf
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26437
(8 April 2008)

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