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BEIJING (AP) — An American geologist held and tortured by China's state security agents was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday for gathering data on the Chinese oil industry in a case that highlights the government's use of vague secrets laws to restrict business information.
In pronouncing Xue Feng guilty of spying and collecting state secrets, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court said his actions "endangered our country's national security."
Its verdict said Xue received documents on geological conditions of onshore oil wells and a data base that gave the coordinates of more than 30,000 oil and gas wells belonging to China National Petroleum Corporation and listed subsidiary PetroChina Ltd. That information, it said, was sold to IHS Energy, the U.S. consultancy Xue worked for and now known as IHS Inc.
The sentence of eight years is close to the recommended legal limit of 10 for all but extremely serious violations. Though Xue, now 45 and known as a meticulous, driven researcher, showed no emotion when the court announced the verdict, it stunned his lawyer and his sister, his only family member allowed in the courtroom.
"I can't describe how I feel. It's definitely unacceptable," Xue's wife, Nan Kang, said by telephone, sobbing, from their home in a Houston, Texas, suburb where she lives with their two children.
U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman attended the hearing to display Washington's interest in the case. He left without commenting and the U.S. Embassy issued a statement calling for Xue's immediate release and deportation to the United States.
Xue's sentence punctuates a case that has dragged on for more than two-and-a-half years and is likely to alarm foreign businesses unsure when normal business activities elsewhere might conflict with China's vague state security laws.