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China frees jailed labour leader weeks early - group

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, March 2 (Reuters) China has released a labour activist a few weeks before his four-year jail term for subversion was due to end, a Hong Kong human rights report said, a rare case of leniency during a crackdown on spreading unrest.

Xiao Yunliang led workers in a northeast Chinese city in a three-day sieg of city hall in their demand for back pay, the China Labour Bulletin said.

He was released last Thursday, 24 days before his sentence for ''conducting illegal assembly and demonstration'' was up.

It came a day after a Chinese journalist jailed for throwing paint on a giant portrait of Mao Zedong during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests was freed.

Some tied that move to President Hu Jintao's expected April trip to the United States. In the past, China has freed political prisoners ahead of major state visits.

With unrest sparked by official corruption, unpaid wages and pensions and official land grabs spreading across the country, China's Communist leadership has intensified crackdowns on rights campaigners, lawyers, journalists and academics.

Last week, police rounded up at least eight democracy campaigners involved in hunger strikes against increasingly violent government harassment of dissidents, sources said.

Yao Fuxin, sentenced with Xiao in 2002, was still in prison, the China Labour Bulletin, seene today, said.

''Xiao's release only shortly before his term was completed shows that the Chinese government has not changed its hostile attitude towards workers' organisers in China,'' said China Labour Bulletin director Han Dongfang.

Independent labour unions are illegal in China and all are under control of the state-run All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

REUTERS KD PC1109

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