"The sentence has been upheld and the appeals refused for all of them", Lu Kun, wife of Yang Zili, one of the plaintiffs, said on Monday.

"They protested against the sentence. They shouted at the judge that they were innocent and told him they were protesting against political persecution".
 
The judge told them to submit a protest in writing.

Xu Wei, Yang Zili, Zhang Honghai, and Jin Haike were sentenced for subverting state power five months ago.

They were appealing on the basis that three key witnesses who testified against them in the original trial had since retracted their statements.
 
Their original statements had been made while they were in detention.

"The sentence is unfair. This is a case of injustice. They are all innocent," said Lu, who was allowed into the Beijing First Intermediate Court to hear the appeal.

The court refused to comment.

Xu, a former journalist and Jin, a young intellectual, were sentenced to 10 years in jail while the two others received eight-year sentences.
 
The four were arrested in March 2001 after they set up the "New Youth Association," an intellectual study group that discussed China's growing social problems, including rural issues and widening inequality.

The group was disbanded three to four months after it was formed and the arrests came soon after that, Lu said.