China jails American geologist for spying | Connect Asia

China jails American geologist for spying

China jails American geologist for spying

Updated 18 January 2012, 17:50 AEDT

China's vague state secrecy laws have once again drawn international criticism.

This week a Chinese-born, American geologist, Xue Feng, was sentenced to eight years in prison for spying and endangering China's national security. Authorities say a database on China's oil industry that he was collecting for the American consultancy firm, IHS Energy, contained state secrets. Parallels are already being drawn with the case of the Australian Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, who was handed down a 10-year sentence earlier this year.

Presenter:Helene Hofman

Xue Min, sister of Xue Feng; Prof David Rowley, Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago; Prof Jerome Cohen, Chinese law expert, New York University; Robert Berring, Chinese law expert, University of California, Berkley; Joshua Rosenzweig, Senior Research Manager, Dui Ha Foundation.

The foundation's Hong Kong-based officer, Joshua Rosenzweig , says they're still hopeful they will be able to get Xue Feng's sentence reduced.

HOFMAN : When the eight-year sentence was handed down by a Beijing court earlier this week, Xue Feng's sister, Xue Min, broke down.

XUE: (Grab in Mandarin)

HOFMAN: I'm just afraid that he would lose his temper in there, if he can't stand the antagonising inside there . . . but he said he could take anything now, she said.

Xue Feng has already spent two-and-a-half years in prison, accused of spying and violating China's strict state secrecy laws.

He had been collecting information on the Chinese oil industry for the U-S based consultancy firm, IHS Energy.

His former colleague and friend, Professor David Rowley from the University of Chicago, says the kind of information that Xue Feng was gathering would have been in the public domain.

ROWLEY: IHS Energy, which is now IHS Inc, made all its business worldwide in the accumulation of information about petroleum activities globally and then the sale of that information to its clients so it depended very much on people with local knowledge and Feng was simply the person tasked with accumulating that information for China. And he had been working there in that capacity for not quite ten years.

HOFMAN: Many have already drawn parallels between the case of Xue Feng and that of Stern Hu, the Australian Rio Tinto executive arrested last year.

Stern Hu was detained in July for stealing commercial secrets - that charge was later dropped but he did plead guilty to receiving bribes and was handed down a ten year prison sentence in March.

Jerome Cohen, an expert in Chinese law at New York University, has been advising Xue Feng's wife who is still in the United States.

COHEN: In many respects its quite similar to other state secrets cases in China. Procedurally the defendant is put in an impossible position. Usually at the time of detention the material involved hasn't yet been declared a state secret. It's usually declared one after the person is locked up and later the person really has no opportunity to challenge the classification. The question of torture comes up. Xue Feng claims he was burned with lighted cigarettes during his early interrogation. Another problem that this case raises and others do: you don't get witnesses coming to court.

HOFMAN: But there is one key difference between Stern Hu and Xue Feng's case and that's publicity.

While Australian authorities began lobbying for the release of Stern Hu from the start, Xue Feng's family kept his detention out of the public eye until November last year.

Jerome Cohen says that may have contributed to Xue Feng being allegedly mis-treated in prison and having to wait over two years for a verdict on his case.

President Barack Obama and the US ambassador to China, John Huntsman, have since gotten behind the case.

But, Robert Berring, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkley who has written extensively about the Chinese legal and prison system says he's not convinced international pressure will have any impact.

BERRING: It's really a case I think of the government trying to make a statement and make it clear and I don't think they care at all that he's a naturalised American citizen. Just as, I think to be frank, in the Rio Tinto case they were also making a point. Law is politics in China and anything at all that matters to the party, it doesn't matter what's written in the book. Right now China's in such a powerful position, people want to do business with them. They're holding the foreign exchange of almost everybody in the Western world I don't think anyone can afford to cut them out. I think if you go to China the Chinese will say you gotta live by our rules, not yours.

HOFMAN: Xue Feng has until July 14th to lodge an appeal to his sentence.

His wife, Nan Kang, has described the verdict as "unacceptable".

One of the group's who has been in close contact with her and others monitoring is the case - the Dui Ha Foundation, who's founder John Kamm has helped hundreds of religious and political prisoners in China.

ROSENZWEIG: The sentence of eight years that was handed down is quite heavy and its definitely a disappointment. I can always hold out some hope that the outcome will be better, but certainly the outcome on Monday was very disappointed and I can only hope there will be a better outcome.


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