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Human Rights Watch today said the four-year prison sentence given to Fang Jue, a Chinese official turned entrepreneur, for alleged unfair business practices made a mockery of China's commitment to the rule of law. In fact, the forty-four-year-old Fang was almost certainly arrested because of his advocacy of political reform.

Regardless of whether there is any substance to the allegations, the arrest is clearly politically motivated." said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. She said that anyone with commercial interests in China should be alarmed by the Fang Jue case. "Whether Chinese officials use unfair business practices as a pretext for arresting reformers or political charges as a pretext for arresting business people, it means that no one is safe from political manipulation of the law."

Fang Jue was accused of selling permits to import diesel oil when he was a government official in Fujian Province. He was detained in July 1998, put on trial in April 1999, and sentenced on June 10 to four years in prison. But the real reason for his arrest was almost certainly the attention he received through his writings on political reform.

In his essay, "China Needs a New Transformation," Fang said that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party was out of step with the thinking of younger Party officials. He called for direct presidential elections, a reversal of the Tiananmen Square verdict, civilian control of the military, and freedom of speech.

His essay was published during last year's so-called "Beijing Spring," when it seemed that China's leaders were willing to allow freer debate on political reform. But a crackdown on dissent beginning late last year has continued relentlessly since then, leading to the arrests and detentions of dozens of political and labor rights activists across China.

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