Human rights activist on trial in China

BEIJING – Hu Jia, a human rights activist and commentator, was tried in a Beijing court yesterday on charges of inciting subversion against the Chinese government through his writings on the Internet.

Hu’s lawyer, Li Fangping, said the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court would probably hand down its sentence in about a week. Hu, 34, who faces up to five years in prison, pleaded not guilty.

Li said he was given only 20 minutes to defend Hu, which he said was not enough time to mount a persuasive case. “When the prosecutor spoke, the judge let him finish,” Li said. “But when I spoke, the judge stopped me and said time was short.”

Hu was detained Dec. 27 in what was seen as part of a crackdown by Chinese censors and security services to rid the Internet of dissidents in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing this August. Formal charges were filed a month later. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, and their infant daughter, Qianci, were restricted from leaving Hu’s Beijing apartment.

Zeng had worked with her husband on an Internet site that gathered and relayed dissident reporting and opinion on Chinese websites. She was a witness in yesterday’s trial and was allowed a brief meeting with her husband on the sidelines of the 3 1/2 hour proceedings.

Human Rights Watch, a US-based advocacy group, denounced the legal proceedings against Hu and said the charges were inconsistent with international law because they sought to punish peaceful criticism of the Chinese political system.

“Hu Jia’s case has been marked by grave rights violations from the start,” Sophie Richardson, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “His arrest was political, the charges are political and his trial is political.”

Premier Wen Jiabao, in a news conference, denied that Hu’s case was part of a party campaign to put away dissidents in advance of the Olympics. “I can make it very clear to you that China is a country under the rule of law,” he said.