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US geologist appeals China state secrets conviction

The lawyer for US geologist Xue Feng [advocacy website] announced Friday that Xue has appealed his conviction for selling state secrets, arguing that the information to which he had access did not include protected information. Xue was convicted earlier this month [JURIST report] by Beijing's No.1 Intermediate People's Court [official website] and sentenced to eight years in prison for collecting intelligence and illegally providing state secrets. The court stated that Xue received a database containing the coordinates for oil wells owned by the China National Petroleum Corporation [official website] while conducting research for US-based IHS energy. Upon discovery, Xue agreed to sell the database to IHS [AP report], which the court ruled was illegal under China's controversial state secrets [JURIST news archive] law. The database was allegedly made available to the public and only considered classified after its sale. In addition to filing an appeal over the classification of the information as a state secret, Xue's attorney is also appealing his sentence [WSJ report], arguing that the prison term as well as a 200,000 yuan fine was too harsh. The US has been working through diplomatic channels [AP report] in order to obtain Xue's release, but so far has had little success.

China's state secrets law has frequently been criticized for alleged overbreadth. In November, rights activist Huang Qi was sentenced to three years in prison [JURIST report] for violating the state secrets law when he discussed how some schools collapsed after the Sichuan province earthquake [BBC backgrounder] in 2008 because of shoddy construction. In March, four employees of Australian mining company Rio Tinto [corporate website] were convicted of receiving bribes and stealing commercial secrets [JURIST report] during stalled iron ore price negotiations and sentenced to a range of seven to 14 years in prison. In April, the Chinese government revised the state secrets law [JURIST report] to require Internet and telecommunications companies to inform on customers who share state secrets. China began a review of its state secrets law last June after concerns were raised regarding Internet filtering software [JURIST reports] on computers sold in that country.

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