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China accuses Australia mining company employees of stealing 'state secrets'

[JURIST] Chinese authorities on Wednesday detained four employees of Australian mining company Rio Tinto [corporate website] on suspicion of stealing 'state secrets' during stalled iron ore price negotiations. Rio Tinto's Shanghai manager Stern Hu, who is an Australian citizen, along with three of the company's Chinese employees are accused [Xinhua report] of bribing officials and steel industry executives in order to obtain information that would be advantageous during negotiations. Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith [official website] said that the government "has continued its efforts to secure consular access to" Hu, and had notified [press release] Chinese authorities of its intent to conduct a consular visit on Friday. Rio Tinto spokesman Tony Shaffer said that the company was not aware [Bloomberg report] of any evidence supporting the accusations. Chinese authorities said that they would handle [Xinhua report] the case "according to the law." On Friday, an executive from Chinese steelmaker Shougang Group [corporate website] was also detained [CNN report] in connection with the Rio Tinto investigation.

Last month, Chinese lawmakers considered [JURIST report] a revised version of the country's sweeping state secrets [JURIST news archive] law to address Internet leaks of classified data. In June 2007, Human Rights in China [advocacy website] released a report [text; JURIST report] saying that the state secrets system in China gives the government virtually complete power to halt the free flow of information, "undermining healthy governance and rule of law." In November 2006, Hong Kong reporter Ching Cheong [advocacy website; SCMP Q/A] began a 5-year prison term [JURIST report] for passing state secrets to Taiwanese intelligence, after the Beijing Higher People's Court affirmed [JURIST report] the sentence on appeal. He was released [press release, in Chinese] in 2008 after serving half of the sentence.

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