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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 May, 2003, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
China jails web dissidents
High school students surf the web at a Beijing shopping mall
Beijing is wary of the powers of the internet
Four Chinese internet writers have been sentenced to long prison terms for subversion.

The Beijing Intermediate People's Court sentenced geologist Jin Haike, 27, and Xu Wei, a 28-year-old journalist for Beijing's Consumer Daily, to 10 years each in prison.

Yang Zili, a 31-year-old computer engineer, and Zhang Honghai, a 29-year-old freelance writer, were each given eight years.

The men, who have already been in custody for 20 months, had set up an internet-based group, the New Youth Society, which was dedicated to exploring democracy and social reform.

It is ridiculous that the Chinese government considers the peaceful expression of one's views a subversive act
Ann Cooper, Committee to Protect Journalists

They had posted articles on the internet critical of the Chinese Government.

Their sentencing follows that last week of Huang Qi, a Chinese web operator, who was the first person China put on trial for internet crimes.

One of the men sentenced on Wednesday, Xu Wei, told the court he had been brutally beaten and tortured with electric shocks to his genitals, according to campaign group Human Rights in China.

The former journalist had to be carried out of the court after he struck his head on the judge's desk and was knocked unconscious, the group said.

Human Rights in China said it "deeply deplores the abusive treatment" of the four men, who plan to appeal.

"It is ridiculous that the Chinese Government considers the peaceful expression of one's views a subversive act," said Ann Cooper, director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Chinese authorities are keen to promote the commercial potential of the internet, but are anxious to control its political content.

Reporters Without Borders estimates that China employs 30,000 people to watch what its people are doing online.

The group estimates that 36 people have been arrested and jailed for putting controversial content on the internet.

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