Picture, WEI JINGSHENG. . . convicted editor

One of China's most prominent political dissidents, Wei Jingsheng, was sentenced to 15 years in prison today after what appears to be the first trial of its kind in China.

The official New China News Agency, in its unprecedented account of a government critic's trial, said Wei was convicted by a judge and two assessors of "supplying a foreigner with Chinese military intelligence and carrying out counterrevolutionary agitation."

The verdict threatened to put a new chill on wallposter criticism of the government and unofficial contact between Chinese and foreigners, which had been on the rebound since Wei and about 20 other dissidents were arrested six months ago.

The official news agency called the one-day session at the People's intermediate Court here an "open trial," but foreign journalists and friends of Wei who appeared at the 3-year-old complex just south of Peking's Tiananmen Square were denied entrance by officials who said all the tickets had been given out. The official news agency reported three hours before the verdict was supposedly reached that the trial against "counterrevolutionary Wei Jingsheng" had begun.

About 400 persons, apparently government workers not immediately connected with the case, attended. The tribunal seemed designed to illustrate the new commitment to due process in criminal matters after years in which trials were rarely public or mentioned in the official media -- particularly trials of the government's critics.

Chinese who attended the trial, although reluctant to speak to foreign journalists, said Wei showed no emotion as the verdict was read. It included three additional years without political rights after his sentence was completed. According to a woman who was in the courtroom, Wei admitted passing information to foreigners and writing critical articles but said he "did not think he has done anything wrong."

Many foreign observers had expected government to go easy on Wei or at least delay his sentencing until after Communist Party Chairman Hua Guofeng had completed his current trip to Western Europe, where interest in China's democracy movement has been strong.

The decision to hold what appears to be a show trial in the middle of Hua's visit to France led some diplomats to question the government's sense of timing, or even suggest an attempt by an influential group of veteran officials in the Chinese government to embarrass their relatively young and inexperience 58-year-old superior, Hua, on his third trip abroad.

The charges against Wei, a 29-year-old former electrician at the Peking Zoo, appeared to be connected to stories written by British, French and Canadian correspondents in February disclosing two secret military news reports that gave details on China's then week-old war with Vietnam.

The New China News Agency's account of the charges today did hot refer to foreign journalist, but a Chinese woman who attended the trial said she heard mention of foreign newspapers, which she could not identify.

The stories by Agence France-Presse, the London Daily Telegraph and Toronto Globe and Mail appeared the day after Wei allegedly passed military intelligence to an unnamed foreeigner on Feb. 20.

[The trial of another dissident, a 32 year-old woman named Fu Yuehua, also charged with illegal contacts with foreigners, began at the same courthouse building Wednesday morning. As at the Wei trial, Chinese television cameras appeared to be there to record the event.]

The chief judge at the Wei trial said Wei could appeal the verdict within 10 days, although the Chinese legal system emphasizes confession and appeals are so rare that it is hard to predict their success. Courtroom witnesses said they could not recall testimony about where Wei got the military information he allegedly passed to foreigner. Chinese sources noted, however, that Wei's father is a high-to middle-level official who might have access to internal party documents. Wei's father has reportedly already denounced his son as a counterrevolutionary.

The official charges also focused on Wei's role as editor-in-chief of the disident journal Pansuo (Explorations), in which he wrote a series of articles, and also wallposters on Peking's "Democracy Wall" critical of the Chinese leadership. In an issue of the journal dated four days before Wei's March 29 arrest, a Pansuo editorial made one of the most outspoken attacks in months on the most influential of the veteran officials in the Communist Party Politburo, Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping. o

"Do the people support Deng Xiaoping as a person? No, they do not," the editorial said. "He now wants to strip off his mask of protector of democracy and suppress the democracy movement. He is prepared to completely set himself himself against democracy and resolutely safeguard dictatiorial politics. He is no longer worthy of the people's trust and support, because his actions have shown he does not want to pursue democracy . . . He is currently following a dictatorial road after deceitfully winning the people's trust."

The magazine stopped publishing soon after but reappeared in August without any apparent government interference. It began to call for the immediate release of Wei and his deputy editor, Yang Guang. The official Chinnese new agency and courtroom spectators said today, however, that Yang and another magazine staffer, Liu Jingsheng, testified for the prosecution in today's trial.

One of the most active of the magazine staffers still at large, Lu Lin, waited with foreign journalists and several Chinese onlookers throughout the long day of drizzling rain outside the court building. He said after the verdict, "The longer the sentence they give him, the more unseen troubles there will be in the future."

Lu, who has been selling the magazine at Peking's Democracy Wall nearly every Sunday and writing several wallposters, said the publication "would not step back. We will continue to write wallposters." But in answer to a question he said it was "possible" that he also would now be arrested.

Public critics of the Chinese government over last 20 years rarely have escaped severe punishment, and only a few thousand individuals at most have played any active part in the recent upsurge of wallposter calls for election of government officials and fewer restraints on free expression.

But the government so far has treated its critics with caution, apparently to win favor with well-educated Chinese scientists and technicians who want a more open society and who are vitally important to China's economic modernizatiom effort.

Since last November, when the government exonerated participants in a massive 1976 riot against the harshest features of the rule of the late chairman Mao Tse-tung, public protest has become acceptable again. But the leadership has apparently chosen to keep it under control by disciplining a few critics it feels have gone too far. k

The verdict seemed to contradict, in part, a number of official press articles recently that have called for an end to criminal penalities for merely writing or speaking against the government.

The official news agency said Wei was found "in gross violation" of several principles mentioned in the Chinese constitution.

It said that during the period from December 1978 to March 1979, Wei "wrote many reactionary articles agitating for the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat." He said in these articles that Marxism-Leninism-Mao Use-tung though was "'a prescription only slightly better than medicine peddled by charlatans,'" and that the system of the dictatorship of the proletariate was "nothing but feudal monarchy disguised as socialism.'"

On the charge of passing secrets, the official news agency said, "Shortly after China launched the self-defensive counterattack against the Vietnamese aggressors to defend its southern border areas, [Wei] supplied a foreigner with information including the names of the commanders of the Chinese troops, the number of such troops, development of the battle and the number of casualties."

The Chinese government has given no word on the fate of other prominent dissidents still in jail, including Ren Wanding, another electrical technician who headed an outspoken group called the Human Rights Alliance.

No trial has been announced for Yang Guang, Wei's deputy editor, although a woman spectator at the trial said Yang testified that he now felt his actions in criticizing the government has been wrong. The other magazine staffer at the trial, Liu Jingsheng, echoed Yang's statements, according to the spectator. Liu was released from jail Sept. 15 and returned to his job as a bus driver, according to Pansuo staffer Lu Lin. gave few details from the trial, other than to say Wei "refused to have his own lawyer to defend his case and conducted his own defense." It said the panel of chief judge Lo Kejun and assessors Liu Wensheng and Shi Yingxian heard him agree that "the material evidence and the witnesses' testimony were true." It cited several articles of the penal code dealing with counterrevolutionaries that were violated by Wei's statement.

The crowds outside the court were generally well behaved during the day but several youths chasing a car they thought was being used to take Wei back to jail scuffled briefly with police. There appeared to be no arrests.

One of the chosen trial spectators said he still thought counterrevolutionary writing should not be punished and said that a woman executed a few years ago -- who had now been made a martyr for opposing the defeated Gang of Four -- might herself have been found guilty under the penal code.