A Chinese activist known for pushing legal issues and backing a jailed Nobel peace laureate went on trial on Friday on a vaguely worded charge, reinforcing Beijing’s sweeping crackdown on dissent.
Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), 56, pleaded 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 last year. 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 (韓一村), said the trial lasted two-and-a-half 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 both him and Wang as they tried to present her defense and because they were assigned a courtroom too small to accommodate observers. A second lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan (劉曉原), was allowed to speak without interruption, he said.
About half a dozen supporters linked arms outside 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 EU were also on hand. They were taken into the courthouse, but were not allowed to observe the trial.
Germany’s human rights commissioner Markus Loening said he could not understand why the European representatives were not allowed to attend the trial and called on Chinese authorities to release Wang immediately.
“Both the accusations against Wang Lihong and the inappropriately long investigative custody awaken the impression of political persecution,” Loening said in a statement.
Wang was detained by Beijing police in late March during a widespread crackdown on activists as the authorities moved to prevent the growth of a Middle East-style protest movement.
Wang’s son Qi Jianxiang (齊建翔), 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 (趙連海), 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 he felt it was his responsibility to speak out and support Wang.
Another supporter, Tianjin bank employee Zhang Lanying, said she took a 6am 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 the 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 last month that killed at least 40 people.