Green activist sentenced to three years in jail for fraud, extortion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am

A mainland court yesterday sentenced Wu Lihong , one of the nation's best-known environmental activists, to three years in jail for defrauding and extorting money from companies, his wife said.

Wu's wife, Xu Jiehua , denied he was guilty and vowed to appeal against the sentence.

'This is extremely difficult to bear,' she said, speaking outside the court immediately after the trial.

The Yixing People's Court in Jiangsu province handed down the sentence after an unusually long session, which lasted nearly seven hours.

The court also fined Wu 3,000 yuan and ordered him to return 45,000 yuan to the companies.

Ms Xu said the funds in question were fees for professional services, dating back to 2003.

Wu is known for his crusade to draw attention to pollution in the mainland's third-largest freshwater lake, Tai Lake, which was recently the site of an algal bloom which left Wuxi without drinking water.

Speaking in his own defence, Wu alleged torture while he was in custody, including deprivation of sleep for five days, beatings on his back and feet and being shackled, a relative said.

'They didn't listen to what he said,' Ms Xu said. 'This was a fake trial.'

Ms Xu said Wu's physical appearance in court was good. She was unable to speak to him directly before or after the trial.

Court officials declined to comment after the trial.

Wu, 39, has spent more than a decade documenting pollution by factories near the lake. He received recognition from the government and state-run media for his efforts before his arrest in April.

His wife said his arrest was politically motivated because the local government viewed him as a nuisance.

Shortly after the trial started, a shouting match broke out on the steps of the courthouse between police and Wu's relatives, some of whom were denied access to the court. In the court, only two seats were reserved for family, a relative said.

Journalists also had to wait outside the court. Plain-clothes police harassed and photographed journalists from overseas media organisations outside the gate.

Wu's arrest and trial have captured international attention from environmental groups.

The mainland's rapid economic growth has brought environmental degradation, though leaders have vowed to improve the situation. The central government has struggled to make local officials improve environmental protection because of corruption and the importance of factories as a source of revenue.