Former China democracy movement leader sentenced to 9 years in prison on fraud charges

By Christopher Bodeen, AP
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

9 year sentence for ex-China democracy leader

BEIJING — A former Chinese democracy movement leader who was handed over to mainland China from Hong Kong — some say illegally — has been sentenced to nine years in prison on the charge of attempted fraud, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Zhou Yongjun was sentenced last Friday in the southwestern city of Shehong after an initial hearing on Nov. 19, Chen Zerui told The Associated Press.

He was also fined 80,000 yuan ($11,700), but planned to appeal his conviction, Chen said.

A duty officer reached by phone at the court confirmed Zhou’s conviction, but said he had no knowledge of the sentence or other details.

Zhou captured global attention in 1989 by kneeling on the steps of the Great Hall of the People beside Tiananmen Square in a plea for China’s communist leaders to acknowledge student calls for political reforms and an end to corruption.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people are believed to have been killed in the army’s crackdown on the demonstrations. Many veterans of the movement who were not exiled continue to suffer government harassment.

Zhou had been living in the United States since smuggling himself out of China in 1993, but was arrested in August 2008 while attempting to enter Hong Kong on a phony Malaysian passport bearing the name Wang Xingxiang.

Supporters say he was planning on returning to mainland China to visit his elderly parents and accuse Hong Kong’s government of violating its own laws in sending him to the mainland.

Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 but maintains its British colonial era legal system and lacks a deportation and removal treaty with mainland China.

Details of the charges against Zhou remain murky, as is common in China’s opaque legal system.

Chen says the case stems from a complaint by Hong Kong’s Hang Seng bank about a suspicious request for the transfer of funds out of an account registered to Wang Xingxiang — the name in Zhou’s fake passport.

The signature on the transfer form did not match that of the original account holder and the name Wang Xingxiang was placed on a money laundering watch list, according to Chen.

He said the amount of the attempted fraud was listed as $6 million Hong Kong dollars ($773,000), but declined to give other details of the case or Zhou’s defense.

Zhou denied the fraud charge, saying he was the victim of bad luck and mistaken identity. He says he obtained the fake passport through an immigration agency, a common practice among Chinese exiles who often find themselves stateless after Beijing refuses to renew their passports.

Hong Kong’s government refuses to comment on Zhou’s case. Visitors whose travel documents do not meet requirements are usually returned to their “place of embarkation or origin,” it has said in the past.

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