Chinese activist on trial as crackdown continues

BEIJING (AP) ? A Chinese activist known for pushing legal issues and backing a jailed Nobel peace laureate went on trial Friday on a vaguely worded charge, reinforcing Beijing’s sweeping crackdown on dissent.

Wang Lihong, 56, plead not guilty to the charge of “creating a disturbance” stemming from her participation in a demonstration outside a court in Fuzhou city in southern China in April 2010. The gathering was in support of three bloggers accused of slander after they tried to help an illiterate woman pressure authorities to reinvestigate her daughter’s death.

One of Wang’s lawyers, Han Yicun, said the trial lasted 2-1/2 hours and that a verdict was expected later this month. If convicted, she faces up to five years in jail.

Han said the trial was not fair because the judge interrupted him and Wang both as they tried present her defense and because they were assigned a courtroom too small to accommodate observers. A second lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, was allowed to speak without interruption, he said.

About half a dozen supporters linked arms outside the Wenyuhe People’s Court in a Beijing suburb and chanted “Wang Lihong come home” and “Wang Lihong is innocent.” They were surrounded by police.

Representatives from eight countries and the European Union were also on hand. They were taken into the courthouse, but were not allowed to observe the trial.

Wang was detained by Beijing police in late March during a widespread crackdown on activists as authorities moved to prevent the growth of a Middle East-style protest movement. Dissident artist Ai Weiwei, the most prominent target of the dozens detained, was recently freed from three months of detention.

Wang’s son Qi Jianxiang, 26, said outside the courthouse that he had not seen his mother in four months, and asked why she was on trial in Beijing if the alleged incident happened in southern China.

Qi observed the proceedings and was able to speak briefly with his mother, who he said looked weak with more gray hair, but was otherwise fine.

“My mother is very strong,” he said. “She was very encouraging to me. I also encouraged her and said I was proud of her.”

Zhao Lianhai, an activist previously jailed for protesting a massive tainted milk scandal, said he eluded state security at his home and took a bus to the courthouse, adding that it was his responsibility to speak out and support Wang.

Another supporter, Tianjin bank employee Zhang Lanying, said she took a 6 a.m. train to get to the court to show her support for Wang.

“I don’t know her personally but I know her story and have read her essays. I respect and admire her spirit, courage and humanity,” said Zhang, who has been petitioning Tianjin authorities over the alleged illegal demolition of her home.

Public activism has surged in China in recent years, helped by the popularity of microblogs, which allow rapid dissemination of information. Bloggers have swung into action on prominent cases such as the mysterious death last Christmas of an activist village leader and a train crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou in July that killed at least 40 people.

Wang also joined a handful of activists in publicly celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo last October. “I think the most important thing is that every person learns how to be their own citizen, and not become someone else’s subordinate,” Wang told The Associated Press in an interview at the time.

Wang began pursuing rights issues in 2008 after retiring from a business renovating and renting out basement dwellings, her son Qi told the AP earlier this month. She took it upon herself to investigate reports of injustice that had spread on the Internet, he said.