Chinese dissident gets seven years in clandestine trial

Copyright © 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Associated Press

BEIJING (October 23, 1998 4:44 p.m. EDT -- A Chinese dissident held for five months without access to his family or a lawyer has been tried and sentenced in secret to seven years in prison, his mother said Friday.

Chen Zengxiang disappeared into police custody May 23. His family has since received only one notice from authorities in July, when he was formally arrested. The order did not list a charge because police said the case concerned state secrets.

Chen's mother, Liu Shuyong, heard of the sentencing this week from another member of the dissident community. Liu called the Qingdao city Intermediate People's Court on Wednesday and an official told her Chen was given seven years in prison.

The official did not tell her why or when Chen was sentenced or where he is being held.

"There's nothing I can do. I'm sick to death about this," Liu said.

Chen is one of only a few dissidents known to have been tried in secret in recent years. His case comes amid slow moves by China's spotty, corrupt legal system to move toward international standards. Earlier this month, China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a U.N. human rights treaty.

Chen, 44, began his democracy campaigning 20 years ago. As a young worker in a paper factory, he edited an underground magazine in the 1978-79 Democracy Wall movement.

A U.S.-based opposition group, the Chinese Democracy and Justice Party, said police questioned Chen about his membership in the organization, which claims to have an underground network of members in China.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement said Chen was put on trial for compiling a list of prisoners arrested in the crackdown after the army's 1989 assault on demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.