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By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese dissident who tried to help victims of last year's Sichuan earthquake was jailed for three years on Monday on charges of illegally possessing state secrets, his wife said, decrying the sentence as "revenge."
The court decision is another sign that China is in no mood to ease political controls after last week's visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, who pressed the government on human rights.
Huang Qi was convicted by a court in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in the nation's southwest where the earthquake on May 12 last year killed at least 80,000 people, including children crushed in schools that collapsed.
A veteran human rights activist, Huang was detained in June last year after offering to help parents protesting that schools which fell in the quake were vulnerable due to shoddy and corrupt building practices. The government has said that 5,335 schoolchildren died in the earthquake or remain missing.
Huang's wife, Zeng Li, who attended the hearing, said he received the maximum sentence for charges of illegally possessing state secrets, but the judge and prosecutors did not say in the courtroom what secrets he was accused of holding.
"They still won't say what the specific charge is, not even at the verdict. They just spoke of documents related to a certain matter," Zeng told Reuters by telephone.
"I think it was revenge for the earthquake and his other work. But the court would not even give me a copy of the verdict."
China's secrets and subversion laws are vaguely worded, giving authorities much scope for defining actions critical of the ruling Communist Party as crimes. The courts run by the Party rarely reject prosecutors' cases.
Obama last week pressed broad hopes for improved human rights in China. But the Party appears set against concessions, even with pressure from the West.
Amnesty International, the rights advocacy group, said Huang was sentenced over two city government documents found in his home.
"Huang Qi should be treated as a model citizen, committed to the rule of law, but instead he has fallen victim to China's vague state secrets legislation," Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific Director for Amnesty International, said in an emailed comment.
Last week, Zhou Yongjun, a student leader of China's 1989 pro-democracy movement who has long lived in the United States, was tried on fraud charges, which his family said were concocted.
Huang, 46, embraced many causes that riled Party officials. He ran his own Tianwang Human Rights Centre and a website (www.64tianwang.com) critical of restrictions on political rights.
He was jailed in 2003 for "inciting subversion" over criticism of the suppression of pro-democracy protests centred on Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, and released in 2005.
Huang would appeal against the sentence, said his lawyer, Ding Xikui, who said the court was legally obliged to give the written verdict to Huang's family and attorneys.
An official in the Wuhou District Court in Chengdu, which delivered the verdict, refused to comment on the case.
Supporters of Huang were barred from the courtroom, said Zeng, who has not been allowed to visit her husband.
"I shouted out that we wanted to appeal, but they didn't allow him to say anything and dragged him away," she said.
(Editing by Ken Wills and Nick Macfie)

Reuters