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Monday, Jun 17, 2024

Hong Kong resident sentenced to life in prison for espionage: Chinese court

John Leung Shing-wan, a Hong Kong permanent resident and a U.S. passport holder, was sentenced to life in prison for espionage, according to a statement on the WeChat account of an Intermediate People's Court in east China's Suzhou city on Monday.
The court announcement revealed Leung’s full name in both Chinese and English, along with his HKID number, Home Return Permit number, and his U.S. passport number.

It noted that Leung, now 78, was arrested on April 15 two years ago, and received his sentence today.

It was unclear where Leung had been living at the time of his arrest and no further details were provided about Leung's sentence.

Such heavy terms are relatively rare for foreign citizens in China, and the jailing of Leung is likely to further strain already damaged ties between Beijing and Washington.

Leung "was found guilty of espionage, sentenced to life imprisonment, deprived of political rights for life", said a statement from the Intermediate People's Court in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.

The court statement provided no further details on the charges, and closed door trials are routine in China for sensitive cases.

While the Suzhou court offered no indication of a tie to overall China-U.S. relations, spying charges are highly selective and evidence backing them up is not released. That is standard practice among most countries, who wish to secure their personal connections, networks and access to information.

A spokesperson for the US embassy in Beijing said they were aware of reports that a US citizen had been recently convicted and sentenced in Suzhou.

"The Department of State has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas," the spokesperson said. "Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declined to comment further on the case at a regular press briefing on Monday.

Washington and Beijing have just ended an unofficial pause in high-level contacts over the United States' shooting down in February of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.

In an apparent breakthrough last week, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi held eight hours of talks in Vienna, with both sides describing the meeting as "candid, substantive and constructive".

On Friday Washington issued a statement condemning the reported sentencing of a human rights activist for "inciting subversion of state power".

Guo Feixiong, also known as Yang Maodong, was jailed for eight years, according to rights groups. There has been no official confirmation from China of the sentencing.

In its statement, the US State Department said its diplomats had been barred from attending the trial in southern China.

"We urge the PRC to live up to its international commitments, give its citizens due process, respect their human rights and fundamental freedoms including freedom of speech, and end the use of arbitrary detentions and exit bans," said US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

US President Joe Biden is due to head to Hiroshima for a meeting of leaders of the G7 group of major developed economies.

The G7's relationship with China is expected to be high on the agenda at the May 19-21 summit.

Other high-profile espionage cases in recent years include the arrest in 2019 of Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Jun.

Australia called last week for another another of its nationals -- jailed journalist Cheng Lei -- to be reunited with her family after 1,000 days in detention over "supplying state secrets overseas".

In April authorities formally charged a prominent Chinese journalist with spying, more than a year after he was detained while having lunch at a Beijing restaurant with a Japanese diplomat, a media rights group said.
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