Trial criticism `irresponsible' says China


China's foreign ministry yesterday said foreign governments were "irresponsible" in criticising its handling of dissent as three prominent activists were sentenced after "open and fair" trials.

"Judicial independence is a basic principle recognised by the world. The judicial departments held an open and fair trial of Xu Wenli and certain persons and this is purely a judicial matter of China," said the foreign ministry spokesman, Mr Zhu Bangzao.

He said no country or organisation had the right to intervene, but "some countries had made irresponsible remarks" about China's handling of the dissidents.

"It is quite irresponsible. The Chinese government cannot accept this," he told reporters when asked if foreign governments' protest at the harsh sentencing of the dissidents would jeopardise its international relations.

A Beijing court on Monday sentenced Xu, a supporter of the China Democracy Party (CDP), to 13 years in jail for subversion while a court in Hangzhou gave the CDP founder, Mr Wang Youcai, an 11-year term for the same offence. A Wuhan dissident, Mr Qin Yongmin, who is also associated with the fledgling opposition party, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for harming state security. Mr Zhu said they were sentenced because they engaged in illegal activities that would not be tolerated in other countries. "In China to hold views different from the government but not engage in illegal activities will not constitute any crime."

Although Mr Zhu said the trials were fair and free, the authorities blocked attempts by dissidents to hire independent lawyers and gave limited access to the court room. The verdicts said they had tried to overthrow state power, but neglected to say that they had tried to register their parties.

Mr Zhu said the trials were a "normal judicial activity of a country with rule of law" and were "purely an internal matter", but some people accused China of violating human rights in its legal activities to punish criminals.

"This is unreasonable and a deliberate blurring of the line between the normal judicial activities and human rights issues," he said. "The punishment of criminals and the protection of human rights are two sides of the same coin."

The US, Britain, France and Germany and Amnesty International, as well as several US-based human rights groups, have protested against the hearings, which lasted less than four hours.

Mr Zhu also insisted China was respecting international covenants on human and social rights it had signed in the past year.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, said she would continue to press for personal freedoms and the right to a fair trial in China.

In a statement issued by her Geneva office she said she had "followed the trials of the three and have had occasion to make representations to the Chinese authorities and to urge that the proceedings be open to international observers. I have also supported measures to guarantee the right to a fair trial." Mrs Robinson, who is on holiday in Ireland, has called on China to apply, even before ratification, the standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in October, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.