- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China released two men after they completed eight-year prison terms for being part of a group that posted essays online advocating political reform, a human rights group said.

Internet engineer Yang Zili and freelance writer Zhang Honghai were freed Thursday, New York-based Human Rights in China said in a statement.

Along with journalist Xu Wei and geologist Jin Haike, they were known as the “four gentlemen of Beijing” when they were arrested in March 2001 for belonging to the New Youth Study Group, the Friday statement said.

The group held secret meetings at Beijing universities and posted essays on the Internet, according to a copy of the indictment released at the time by the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

The essays bore titles such as “China’s democracy is fake,” and “Be a new citizen, remake China,” it said.

All four were convicted of subversion and intent to overthrow the Communist Party in May 2003, Human Rights in China said. Xu and Jin were sentenced to 10 years and are still in prison.

China says its law guarantees citizens freedom of speech and expression, but critics are often arrested under an antisubversion clause, a vague law that can yield hefty prison terms.

Even after their release, Yang and Zhang will be subject to two years’ deprivation of political rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, Human Rights in China said. They could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Human Rights in China said they were all in their 20s when they were detained, and the trial rested on three witnesses who also were members of the study group, one who was an informant for the Ministry of Public Security. After the conviction, all three witnesses said their testimony was given under coercion, the group said.

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