China bars US official from American's appeal

China bars US official from American's appeal
Monday, November 29, 2010 - 10:15pm

BEIJING – U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing were barred Tuesday from attending the appeal hearing of an American geologist sentenced by China to eight years in prison on charges of obtaining state secrets.

Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Goldberg told reporters outside the Beijing High People's Court that the embassy had lodged a formal protest with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the incident.

Xue Feng was convicted in July of obtaining state secrets by procuring a database and other information on China's oil industry. His case has underscored China's use of its vague state secrets law to restrict the flow of business information and the vulnerability of Chinese who take foreign citizenship but return to China to work.

Goldberg also urged China to immediately release the scientist on humanitarian grounds and deport him back to the U.S. and called on the court to ensure a fair appeal.

"Regardless of the outcome of today's hearing, we urge the High Court and the Chinese government to ensure fairness and transparency in the process of Dr. Xue's appeal," said Goldberg shortly after Xue's appeal hearing was scheduled to begin.

The appeal comes just a little more than three years after Xue disappeared into custody while on a business trip to China. During his first months in detention, Xue was mistreated. His interrogators stubbed lit cigarettes into his arms, made him sit still for long periods of time and handcuffed him to a chair that he had to hold upright behind his back for an hour.

The U.S. government has urged Xue's release, mostly by lobbying quietly behind the scenes. Only a year ago did Washington begin a more public push, with President Barack Obama raising the case with China's Hu Jintao.

Born in China, the now 45-year-old Xue was known as affable and meticulous while getting his doctorate in geology at the University of Chicago. He, his wife and two children moved to a Houston, Texas, suburb when Xue began working for the energy information and consultancy now known as IHS Inc.

At his trial, which ended with his conviction in July, Xue acknowledged that he had gathered information on China's oil industry for IHS. Among his successes was obtaining a database that contained the coordinates and other geological information for more than 32,000 oil and gas wells belonging to the country's two largest and state-run oil companies, China National Petroleum Corporation and China Petrochemical Corporation.

But both at his trial and in documents submitted to the appeals court, Xue said that such information is publicly and commercially available in most parts of the world. So, he argued, the government's classification of them as confidential or state secrets was mistaken.

Xue's lawyer Tong Wei said the court was not expected to immediately rule on the appeal.


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