US geologist, jailed in China on state secrets charges, released and deported: Rights group

BEIJING (AFP) - A United States geologist convicted on state secrets charges and imprisoned in China has been released and returned to the United States, a human rights group said.

Dr Xue Feng, who had been serving an eight-year sentence in Beijing No. 2 Prison, was immediately deported upon leaving jail, the US-based Dui Hua Foundation said in a release dated on Friday.

The rights group, which advocates clemency and better treatment for prisoners in China and had repeatedly raised Dr Xue's case with Chinese officials, said that he arrived in the US city of Houston on Friday evening.

"Dui Hua is delighted that Dr Xue has finally been reunited with his family in America after a terrible ordeal," the San Francisco-based group's executive director John Kamm said in the release.

The freeing of Dr Xue could not be immediately confirmed with the US embassy in Beijing.

There is no listed phone number for the No. 2 prison and its website had no information on Dr Xue's release.

Dr Xue, a Chinese-born US citizen, was first detained in November 2007 over the sale of a database on China's oil industry while working for US energy and engineering consulting firm IHS.

Media contacts at IHS did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Both Dr Xue and IHS had said in the past that they believed the database to be a commercially available product. It was only classified as a state secret after Dr Xue had bought it, according to Dui Hua.

In February 2011, a Beijing court upheld his 2010 conviction and eight-year sentence.

In November 2012, Dr Xue received a 10-month reduction in his sentence for good behaviour, Dui Hua said.

His release means that there are now no US citizens serving sentences in China on convictions of endangering state security, Dui Hua said.

The US repeatedly raised concerns over whether Dr Xue's rights were being protected and whether he had access to a fair trial.

Rights activists say China routinely abuses its state secrets laws, often as a means of silencing government critics.

Dr Xue's arrest and other cases have cast a spotlight on the dangers of doing business in China, especially for those born in China and who took on a foreign nationality.

Australian national Stern Hu, an executive with the mining giant Rio Tinto, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2010 on bribery and trade secrets charges, in a case severely criticised by Canberra.