Chinese activist on trial as crackdown continues

August 11, 2011 - 9:14 PM

BEIJING (AP) — An activist went on trial Friday in the latest case of Chinese authorities' sweeping crackdown on dissidents this year.

Wang Lihong, 56, was expected to plead not guilty to the vaguely worded charge of "creating a disturbance." If convicted, she faces up to five years in jail.

The charge is linked to Wang's participation in a demonstration outside a court in Fuzhou city in southern China in April 2010 in support of three bloggers accused of slander after they tried to help an illiterate woman pressure authorities to reinvestigate her daughter's death.

About half a dozen supporters linked arms outside the courthouse Friday 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 it was not clear whether they were allowed to observe the trial.

Maria Rosa Sabbatelli of the political section of the EU delegation in Beijing said she had sent a fax to the court requesting permission to observe Wang's trial but did not receive a reply.

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.

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.

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.