updated 8/17/2007 5:29:38 PM ET 2007-08-17T21:29:38

A Chinese cyber-dissident has been sentenced to four years in jail after he was convicted of "inciting the government's overthrow," a press freedom group said Friday.

Chen Shuqing, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and advocate of democratic reforms, was arrested last year on charges of inciting subversion against the state, a vaguely worded charge authorities often use against activists they deem threatening to the ruling Communist Party.

"Courts taking their orders from the Communist Party continue to crack down on cyber-dissidents," Reporters Without Borders said. "We reiterate our appeal for the release of Chen and the 50 other cyber-dissidents and Internet users held in China."

Chen, who is a founding member of the banned China Democracy Party, was arrested last September in the eastern Zhejiang province. Police searched his home and seized his computer's disk drives, Reporters without Borders said.

The Paris-based group said it was "appalled" by the sentence passed by the Intermediate People's Court in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang.

A woman who answered the phone at the court, who refused to give her name, confirmed Chen has been sentenced Thursday but declined to give any other details.

China's ruling Communist Party has taken some steps to appear more open ahead of the Beijing Olympics next summer, such as loosening restrictions on foreign reporters.

But critics say its grip on dissent has in fact tightened under President Hu Jintao. They says controls on religion, the domestic media, political activism and the Internet have been ratcheted up in recent years.

Though the communist government promotes Internet use, it has also set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese from accessing material considered obscene or politically subversive.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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