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Jailed Chinese exile asks family to find lawyer

By Charles Hutzler, Associated Press, 12/30/98 09:10

BEIJING (AP) - A long-exiled democracy activist who slipped back into China only to be caught by police has asked his family to hire a lawyer, a sign that his trial is drawing near, a human rights group reported today.

Wang Ce has been charged with endangering state security, a term that Chinese authorities have used to sentence four dissidents to lengthy prison terms in the past ten days.

The harsh punishments against the four and the sentencing without trial to labor camps of at least three others are part of the broadest crackdown against dissidents in three years. It aims to halt a surge in activism as dissidents tried to organize a political party and independent labor groups.

Wang Ce sneaked back into China through the Portuguese colony of Macau in October. A U.S.-trained political scientist, Wang lived in Spain and was a leading member of an alliance of democratic parties set up in exile. He hoped to help Chinese dissidents trying to organize the opposition China Democracy Party.

Police arrested Wang Ce after he met with Wang Youcai, a principal opposition party organizer, in the eastern city of Hangzhou on Nov. 2.

A student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations, Wang Youcai was sentenced last week to 11 years in prison for trying to set up the party. Two other influential organizers, Xu Wenli and Qin Yongmin, were sentenced to 13 and 12 years.

Held in the Zhejiang province detention center in Hangzhou, Wang Ce wrote to his family Sunday seeking their help in finding a lawyer, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement reported.

Wang has been charged with illegally entering China and ``financially assisting criminal acts that endanger state security,'' the group said. He faces up to life imprisonment if convicted, a virtual certainty in dissident trials.

In addition to the three China Democracy Party leaders, another member of the group, Xu Wangping, was sentenced by police to three years in a labor camp. Two other exiles, Zhang Lin and Wei Quanbao, were arrested last month after sneaking back into China and have also been sentenced to three years forced labor.

A court in southern Hunan province sentenced labor rights activist Zhang Shanguang to 10 years in prison Sunday for telling U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia about farmers' protests.

The sentencings have provoked protests by dissidents within China and abroad. Wang Xizhe, a prominent member of the dissident community before his escape from China last year, was in the fourth day of a hunger strike outside the United Nations in New York.

According to the Information Center, 40 dissidents based in Hunan issued a petition today demanding the release of activist Zhang Shanguang.

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