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Amid media crackdown, China sentences journalist to 12 years

BEIJING -- A freelance writer was sentenced to 12 years in prison yesterday, receiving an unusually harsh penalty amid one of China's most severe media crackdowns since the 1980s.

The sentencing of Yang Tianshui on subversion charges was one of a flurry of court actions yesterday against Chinese reporters. In Beijing, prosecutors filed a new indictment against a Chinese researcher for The New York Times who has been in custody since 2004 on state secrets charges. In southern China, a journalist went on trial and pleaded not guilty to extortion charges.

Yang was convicted after being accused of posting articles on foreign websites, receiving money from abroad, and helping a would-be opposition party, according to his lawyer, Li Jianqiang.

''We think Yang is innocent and should be released immediately," Li said by phone from the eastern city of Zhenjiang.

The cases come amid a campaign by President Hu Jintao's government to tighten control over newspapers, websites, and other media, stamping out content deemed politically or morally dangerous.

''Fearing that news of land disputes and other civil discontent could fuel a united threat to its authority, the Communist Party government has undertaken one of the biggest media crackdowns since the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations," the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report issued .

China is believed to be the world's leading jailer of journalists, with at least 42 behind bars, many on charges of violating vague security or subversion laws.

Beijing's economic success has persuaded its leaders that they can ''basically behave like they want," said Jean Philippe Beja, research director at the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research.

In the case of Times researcher Zhao Yan, it wasn't clear whether the new indictment was based on new charges or on a case that was dismissed earlier, said his lawyer, Mo Shaoping.

Mo said he didn't expect to be allowed to see the indictment until later this week.

The case against Zhao was dismissed in March ahead of Hu's visit to Washington in what appeared to be an effort to remove an irritant in US-Chinese relations.

Mo said he was told the court ''resumed the case," which he said Chinese law doesn't permit.

Zhao is believed to have been detained in connection with a report by the newspaper about former president Jiang Zemin's plans to give up a key military post. Zhao's family was told he was accused of leaking state secrets to foreigners.

Yang, 43, was detained in December in a crackdown on public discussion of corruption, political reform, and social problems.

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