A city government official in China's southwestern province of Sichuan has been arrested and charged with subversion after he expressed his political views on Internet chatrooms, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Li Zhi, 32, was detained in August along with his wife, who was released on the same day, New York-based Human Rights in China said. Li's computer was confiscated, and he was formally charged with "conspiracy to subvert state power" on Sept. 3, it said.

Officials at the local Bureau of State Security declined to comment on the case. But an official at the Finance Bureau where Li worked before his detention said Li "deserved to be arrested.... You cannot compromise state security while chatting or disseminating information online."

China has kept a tight hold on Internet use by its citizens, for fear that its critics could organize themselves into an effective opposition and disseminate their views to China's fast-growing population of cyber-surfers.

Government filters block access to Web sites abroad run by dissidents, human rights groups, and some news organizations. The content of domestic sites is monitored and sometimes censored. Banned Web sites also include those offering pornography, and those belonging to banned organizations such as the Falungong movement.

The Chinese authorities are thought to have detained more than 30 people since the Internet boom began in the late 1990s, as part of its crackdown on online dissent. Overall, the government's policy has been to encourage the use of the Internet for business and educational purposes, but not for political discussion.

In June, four people who posted online messages in favor of political change were convicted by a Beijing court in June of subversion and sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to 10 years.

Human Rights in China called on the U.S. government to put pressure on Beijing to release Li Zhi. "Monitoring e-mail and Internet chatrooms is an unacceptable invasion of privacy, and a reprehensible method of gathering evidence for prosecution of a political crime," Liu Qing, president of the rights group, said in the statement.

It noted that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, at their meeting last week to ensure that Beijing acted on promises made in human rights talks last year. "We hope the government will take particular note of this case and press for the immediate release of Li Zhi," Liu said.

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