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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 06:50 GMT 07:50 UK
China jails US-based activist
2001 file photo of Yang Jianli
Yang: His trial began more than a year after his arrest
China has sentenced US-based activist Yang Jianli to five years for illegally entering the country and spying, the official Xinhua news agency says.

Yang left China for the US after the suppression of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

He was banned from returning but did so in 2002, allegedly on a friend's passport, to investigate labour unrest in northern China.

His case attracted widespread attention from human rights groups.

They complained he was held without a hearing for too long, and was abused in jail.

April 2002 - arrested for entering China
August 2003 - tried for illegal entry and spying
May 2004 - sentenced to five years' jail
The US State Department repeatedly called for Yang, a permanent US resident and Harvard University research fellow, to be freed.

During his visit to China last month, US Vice President Dick Cheney specifically raised Yang's case. Lawmakers also recently warned that Sino-US relations would be damaged by his continued imprisonment and "brutal treatment".

According to Xinhua, Yang has been convicted of spying for Taiwan.

"As his lawyer, I believe all the charges are without basis," said Mo Shaoping, who is acting on behalf of Yang.

He added that throughout the hearing, Yang had refused to answer the questions put to him, insisting he had been detained illegally and the court had failed to make a ruling within the time limit allowed.

Chinese law states that the court should have handed down a verdict or set him free within two and a half months of his one-day trial last August. But Yang has now been detained for over two years.

Yang's wife, Christina Fu, told Reuters news agency that she was relieved a sentence had finally been passed.

"It's not as bad as I thought," she said. "I hope he can be deported."

In the past, China has deported other high-profile US-based political prisoners, but there are no immediate indications Yang will be sent overseas.

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