Chinese Rights Activist Joins List of Those Facing Subversion Charge

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 15, 2008

BEIJING, Feb. 14 -- An activist who helped organize a petition complaining that Chinese want "human rights, not the Olympics" will be tried for inciting subversion against the state, his lawyer said Thursday.

Yang Chunlin, whose trial was set for Tuesday in the far northern city of Jiamusi, has been in police custody since July undergoing investigation for a long history of dissident political essays, corruption allegations against government officials and appeals for reforms in China's authoritarian Communist Party system, according to the lawyer, Li Fangping.

Yang, 53, is among half a dozen activists known to be accused and put on trial for subversion on the basis of their writings in what appears to be a tightening of state controls over public expression in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in August.

Another activist, Hu Jia, was formally charged in late January for his blogging under the same broadly framed Chinese law that bars "inciting subversion of state power." The writer Lu Gengsong was sentenced to four years in prison Feb. 5 on the same charge, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch and other foreign groups have denounced the arrests and trials as a betrayal of China's obligations as an Olympic host to pay more regard to human rights, particularly in matters of public expression.

"Beijing has given virtually no signs that it intends to keep the promises made to the international community in exchange for hosting the Games," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement this month. "On the contrary, we have witnessed a systematic effort to silence, suppress and repress Chinese citizens who are trying to push the government into greater respect for fundamental rights."

In response, Chinese officials have said that the Public Security Bureau is simply enforcing the law and that foreign critics should avoid mixing their political demands with the Olympics.

Li, the lawyer, said Yang's writings and activism on behalf of farmers who lost their land did not violate the law under which he is charged. "His behavior did not subvert state power," Li said, "and he did not intend to subvert state power."

But Li added that he expected Yang to be convicted and receive a sentence of several years because he did not admit guilt during six months of interrogation. Li said that during his one meeting with Yang, in October, he asked him whether he had been abused during the interrogation, but guards quickly ended the conversation and Yang was unable to reply.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company