July 6, 2010 / 10:52 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. calls on China to release jailed geologist

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday called on China to release a U.S. geologist jailed on charges of stealing state secrets, but Beijing said other countries had no right to interfere in what it called an internal affair.

Xue Feng, a 44-year-old U.S. citizen born in China, was detained late in 2007 after negotiating the sale of an oil industry database to his employer at the time, Colorado-based consultancy IHS Energy, now known as IHS Inc.

The State Department said the United States was extremely concerned about Xue’s rights to due process under Chinese law after he was sentenced to eight years in jail, and it called on Beijing to free him.

“We call on China to grant Dr. Xue humanitarian release and immediately deport him back to the United States,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “The U.S. government is deeply concerned for Dr. Xue’s well-being.”

The U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, said he was disappointed by the sentence and that the prosecutor’s case appeared “flimsy” and “opaque.”

“This is a case that we have highlighted repeatedly at very senior levels of our government,” he told Reuters.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang earlier said the sentencing was a domestic matter.

“China’s judicial departments have handled this case strictly by the law. This is China’s internal affair,” Qin told a news briefing in Beijing. “China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty cannot be interfered with by foreign countries.”

Xue was convicted of attempting to obtain and traffic in state secrets, a year after his trial ended, said the Duihua Foundation, which promotes prisoners’ rights in China and the United States. The database was classified as a state secret only after it was sold, it added.

China’s notoriously vague state secrets laws received international attention last year when Australian citizen Stern Hu and three colleagues working for mining giant Rio Tinto were detained for stealing state secrets during the course of tense iron ore negotiations.

The four were later convicted of the lesser charges of receiving kickbacks and stealing commercial secrets.

Huntsman said Washington would continue seeking Xue’s immediate release, possibly on medical or humanitarian grounds.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Huang Yan, Chris Buckley and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Nick Macfie

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