China sentences geologist to eight years in prison despite US appeal

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

US President Barack Obama sent China a failed personal appeal to free American geologist Xue Feng.
Image: Elizabeth Cromwell.

Despite a personal plea from US president Barack Obama, a court in China sentenced American geologist Xue Feng to eight years in prison and a US$30,000 fine for trafficking state secrets and buying an advanced commercial database that, according to China, contains confidential information about the country's oil industry.

The sentence was carried out even though both Xue, 45, and his employer, the engineering consultancy IHS, have stated that during the time of purchase, the database was in the public domain. Also, San Francisco-based non-profit Dui Hua Foundation has said that China declared the database a state secret only after Xue had purchased it.

Chinese state security agents arrested Xue, a naturalized US citizen, in November 2007 after he purchased the database. Diplomats have visited the geologist over thirty times since he was detained.

Joshua Rosenzweig of Dui Hua has stated to the Agence France-Presse, a news agency, that he suspects that "some of Xue Feng's statements to the police might have been obtained under coercion including torture." Also, during meetings with consular officials, it appeared that Xue was not being treated well in prison, as Xue had scars on his arm that he said came from interrogators' cigarette stubs.

However, while pronouncing Xue's sentence, Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court declared that the geologist's actions "endangered our country's national security."

After the sentence was pronounced, Xue's wife, Nan Kang, tearfully said via telephone to the Associated Press that "I can't describe how I feel. It's definitely unacceptable." Xue's family lives in a suburb of Houston, Texas, where Xue and Nan have two children.