A Hong Kong-based British citizen has been sentenced to life in prison by a Chinese court on spying charges, a newspaper reported yesterday.
Chinese officials haven't disclosed details of the case against Chan Yu-lam, a former employee of the Hong Kong bureau of China's official Xinhua News Agency. The bureau acted as China's consulate in the former British colony before it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Chan, 53, was sentenced on Friday by a court in the southern city of Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported, citing his defense lawyer, who it said refused to give details of the case for fear of jeopardizing a possible appeal.
It wasn't clear if Chan worked as a journalist. Phone calls yesterday to the Guangzhou court and the lawyer's offices weren't answered. A spokeswoman for the British Consulate in Guangzhou said it hadn't received any notice from the court and couldn't comment.
The Washington Post reported this week that Chan was accused of violating Chinese law by discussing the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests with a British agent.
The Post said Chan was also accused of illegally giving the agent phone numbers for the Xinhua bureau. The report said he was tried on Feb. 24.
Beijing worries that Hong Kong, which has wide autonomy and its own border controls, could become a base for foreign espionage against China.
The British Embassy confirmed this week that Chan had been detained, but it wouldn't confirm reports that he was charged with espionage. It was not immediately clear when or where he was arrested.
The embassy also said two other Hong Kong-based British citizens had been detained in Guangzhou. It identified one as Wei Pingyuan but wouldn't give the name of the third person.
The Washington Post said an unknown number of others also had been detained in the case.
China declined a British request for access to the three British detainees, the embassy said. It said they entered China using Hong Kong identity cards, so Chinese officials said they weren't covered by a consular treaty that would let diplomats see them.
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