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China releases human rights lawyer -group

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, June 6 (Reuters) Authorities have released a Chinese lawyer jailed for helping evicted Shanghai residents seek compensation, but an official crackdown on petitioners has become worse, a human rights group said.

Zheng Enchong was set free yesterday after serving a three-year sentence at Shanghai's Tilanqiao prison on charges of ''illegally obtaining state secrets'', the New York-based Human Rights in China said in a statement seen today.

Zheng had helped Shanghai residents with a lawsuit accusing the city government of colluding with real estate tycoon Zhou Zhengyi, once one of China's richest men but later convicted and jailed for stock market fraud and falsifying documents.

Zhou was released last month after serving a three-year jail sentence. That prompted protests from some residents evicted to make way for his projects that he had got off lightly.

Petitioners' rights groups say Zhou received lenient treatment because of his political connections in Shanghai and Beijing. Human Rights in China said he was reportedly met at the jail gates by a private car and whisked off to his luxury villa.

By contrast, Zheng would be kept under surveillance and lose his political rights for a year, the group said. Amnesty International said last year it feared Zheng had been beaten in prison.

The scandal tarnished Shanghai's reputation as a haven for foreign investment, while drawing unwanted attention to a financial system dogged by poor risk controls.

Shanghai, China's richest and most cosmopolitan city, has also been intensifying a crackdown on petitioners, Human Rights in China said, outlining eight cases of detention, house arrest and harassment over the last few weeks.

''The massive round-up of petitioners, the very people Zheng Enchong has spent years of his life assisting, indicates that the Shanghai authorities remain committed to their campaign of suppressing efforts by citizens to peacefully defend their rights,'' the group said.

REUTERS CH RK0929

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