The US yesterday called for the immediate release of a US geologist convicted in China on a state secrets charge and protested at a lack of access to his appeals hearing.
The US issued the call in an unusual public statement delivered by the US embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Robert Goldberg, outside the Beijing court where the appeal by geologist Xue Feng (薛峰) was due to be heard.
“We urge the Chinese to grant Dr Xue humanitarian release and immediate deportation so that he can return home to the US and reunite with his family,” Goldberg said, reading out the statement on behalf of US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
Xue, a Chinese-born US citizen working for a private firm, was -detained in November 2007 over the sale of a database on China’s oil industry and was sentenced in July to eight years in jail for violating state secrets.
The case has drawn strong protests from the US, which has raised concerns about whether Xue’s rights were being protected and whether he had access to a fair trial.
US President Barack Obama has personally raised Xue’s case with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), US diplomats have said previously.
US consular officials have visited Xue on numerous occasions since his detention, but Goldberg said China was barring them from the appeals hearing in violation of bilateral agreements.
“We made a formal request to attend Dr Xue’s appeals hearing and provide him consular -representation and support, as is our right under the 1980 US-China consular convention,” Goldberg said. “Regrettably the Beijing High People’s Court denied this request.”
The US embassy has filed a formal protest with China’s foreign ministry, he said.
“We urged the [Beijing High People’s Court] and the Chinese government to ensure fairness and transparency in the process of Dr Xue’s appeal,” Goldberg said.
Staff at the court denied knowledge of the case when contacted.
At the time of his arrest, Xue was working for US energy and engineering consulting firm IHS.
Both Xue and IHS have stated that they believed the database to be a commercially available product. It was only classified as a state secret after Xue had bought it, according to the Dui Hua -Foundation, a rights group.
Xue’s arrest and other cases have cast a spotlight on the pitfalls of doing business in China, especially for those born in China who have been educated abroad and taken on a foreign nationality.
Goldberg said the US embassy had been contacted previously by US citizens of Chinese descent who complain that “different standards have been adopted with regard to them, particularly in so far as business dealings are concerned.”
Australian national Stern Hu (胡士泰), an executive with the mining giant Rio Tinto, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March on bribery and trade secrets charges, in a case that raised hackles in Canberra.
Rights activists say China routinely abuses its state secrets laws, typically in a bid to silence government critics.