^China imposes two-year sentence in first Internet dissent case
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^AP Photos FHA102,103;TOK111
^By JOE McDONALD= ^Associated Press Writer=
SHANGHAI, China (AP) China extended its crackdown on dissent into cyberspace for the first time Wednesday, sentencing a software entrepreneur to two years in prison for giving e-mail addresses to dissidents abroad.
Lin Hai, 30, was convicted of subversion in a case that highlighted China's conflicting efforts to promote Internet use for business and education at the same time it is stamping out political activity.
Subversion is among China's most serious crimes and is normally used against political dissidents.
``The conviction of Mr. Lin is no more than a brutal act of suppression of dissent, and China will certainly be severely criticized,'' said Albert Ho, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Alliance for the Promotion of the Democratic Movement in China.
Lin, who owns a Shanghai software company, was arrested last March after he gave e-mail addresses of 30,000 Chinese computer users to ``VIP Reference,'' a pro-democracy journal published on the Internet by Chinese dissidents in the United States.
Reporters were not allowed in court, but a spokesman for the Shanghai High-Level People's Court who gave his name as Mr. Zhou confirmed the verdict and sentence.
A three-judge panel of the Shanghai Intermediate People's Court said Lin deserved to be ``punished harshly,'' according to a copy of the verdict obtained by the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.
Lin was fined $1,200 and the ``the tools of his crime'' were ordered confiscated: two desktop computers, one laptop computer, a modem and a telephone.
Lin's wife, Xu Hong, attended the half-hour sentencing but was not allowed to talk to her husband, and he did not speak. She and other spectators were barred from his four-hour trial on Dec. 4.
``This is the first time I've seen him since he was arrested,'' Xu said. She said she would not know whether her husband would appeal until he discussed the verdict with his lawyer.
China is trying to stop the flow of pro-democracy material from abroad, aided by the rapid spread of Internet use.
There are about 1.5 million registered Internet users in China, a number that could grow to 5 million by 2002. The government is encouraging companies to create Chinese-language content, and is promoting a low-cost domestic network.
China polices Internet use closely. Service providers are required to register users, while barriers have been installed to block sites deemed subversive or pornographic.
Lin's case appears to be unrelated to a crackdown that began in November on pro-democracy activists trying to set up China's first opposition party. Three leaders of that group were sentenced last month to 11, 12 and 13 years in prison.
Lin's relativly short sentence could be meant to mute criticism while still intimidating ``techno-dissidents,'' said Robin Munro, a longtime observer of human rights in China.
``Two years doesn't get Western congressmen and politicians in such a lather as 10 years would,'' Munro said by telephone from Hong Kong.
Lin had argued that he had no political motive and gave away e-mail addresses in order to develop business contacts, his wife said.
But a government Internet expert said that as a private businessman, Lin had no right to peddle e-mail addresses without permission from their owners.
``Perhaps his intentions were good, but he doesn't have the right to violate my privacy,'' said Guo Liang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an elite think tank in Beijing.
(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)