Two closed-door hearings of prominent Chinese activists yesterday drew sharp criticism for violating due process and chilling freedom of expression as Chinese authorities tighten oversight of public speech.
Veteran journalist Gao Yu (高玉), 70, went on trial yesterday in closed-door proceedings in Beijing on accusations of leaking state secrets. Police and plainclothes agents blocked journalists from accessing the Beijing No. 3 People’s Intermediate Court, but confirmed proceedings were under way.
Across the country, in the tumultuous Xinjiang region, a sealed jailhouse court upheld the separatism conviction and life sentence for Ilham Tohti, a noted academic from China’s Muslim Uighur minority who frequently criticized the government while advocating ethnic pride and greater economic opportunity.
Both proceedings highlight tensions between China’s vision of rule of law, a top priority of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), and Western notions of judicial fairness.
“If Gao Yu and Ilham Tohti were to receive genuinely fair hearings, the charges against them would be dismissed as blatant political persecution,” Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said in a statement on Thursday.
Gao is one of the best-known intellectuals to have been imprisoned for supporting the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests. She was detained in April for illegally obtaining a Chinese Communist Party document and providing it to an overseas Web site for publication, according to previous state media reports.
State media did not identify the document, but it appeared to refer to a strategy paper — known as Document No. 9 — that reportedly argued for aggressive curbs on the spread of Western democracy, universal values, civil society, freedom of press and other ideological concepts the party believed threatened its legitimacy.
Human rights activists have said Gao’s case raises concerns that the authorities are using state secrets charges to silence government critics.
Ilham Tohti was accused of fomenting unrest during a closed-door trial in September in the regional capital of Urumqi.
His supporters portray him as a moderate intent on mediating conflicts between Xinjiang’s native Uighurs and China’s ethnic Han majority, which have cost about 400 lives in the past 20 months.
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