Xue Feng. Image from the University of Chicago.
A naturalised American geologist was today sentenced to 8 years in prison at Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court for attempting to obtain and traffic in state secrets over an oil industry database.
Xue Feng (薛峰) was formally arrested in April 2008 on criminal charges of attempting to arrange the sale of a database of information about China’s oil industry to his former employer, IHS Energy, the Colorado-based energy consulting firm. Both IHS and Xue said they believed the database was a commercially available product, yet after Xue bought it, it was classified as a state secret. Xue was then detained as he prepared to return to the US in November 2007.
Draft regulations released by the government in April defines the business secrets of major state-run companies as state secrets. In Xue’s case, the database had been prepared by a Chinese company and contained detailed information on the state of the Chinese oil industry, which is predominantly state-controlled.
The vagueness of the ‘state secrets’ charge brought against Xue, combined with his trial being repeatedly postponed, has also shone a light on the arbitrary nature of China’s legal system. The verdict handed down to Xue comes more than six months since the last court hearing and two and a half years after he was detained, AP reports. His lawyer, Tong Wei, said a decision should have come in March of this year at the latest. He added that the sentence handed down to his client was “very heavy.”
The US had also repeatedly appealed for Xue’s release, but to no avail.