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China Delays Trial of Rights Activist

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

BEIJING, Feb. 2 -- A Chinese court Monday postponed the trial of a rights activist charged with the illegal possession of state secrets after he helped parents of children killed in last year's Sichuan earthquake, his wife said.

The case of Huang Qi, 45, who has been openly critical of the Communist Party's restrictions on political rights, highlights Beijing's anxiety about increased unrest due to the economic downturn and about growing calls for political reform as sensitive anniversaries approach marking the 1959 Tibetan uprising and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Monday's developments also came as the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva began examining the rights record of China and other countries in its fourth session of the Universal Periodic Review, in which countries declare what actions they've taken to improve their rights records.

Huang, who was arrested in June, has previously served jail time on charges of inciting subversion. Then as now, the charges were related to posting politically sensitive articles online, his family said. On Monday, the Wuhou District Court in Chengdu told Huang's wife, Zeng Li, that her husband would be tried on the secrets charge Tuesday.

Huang's attorneys then complained that the court had failed to give the required three days' notice. China has just returned to work after a week-long Lunar New Year holiday. Late Monday, the court called again and did not provide a new date but said it would give Zeng three days' notice before her husband's trial, she said.

After the May 12 quake, which killed about 80,000 people, Sichuan authorities tried to stop citizen protests, curbed media coverage of allegations of shoddy school construction, and offered money to grieving parents who blamed corrupt local officials for the disproportionate number of school collapses.

"My husband posted the appeals and complaints of parents on his Web site, http://www.64tianwang.com. He documented the scene at the collapsed schools and delivered food and other rescue equipment to the epicenter," Zeng said in a telephone interview. "Besides that, he did nothing. And the reports he posted online were also covered by other media."

Huang's attorney, Mo Shaoping, asked a colleague to rush to the courthouse Monday after the first call about the trial. "First, how can they be sure it's Huang Qi who has state secrets? Second, are things he has even a state secret? If they charge him this way, the trial will not be open," Mo said.

The case is the latest of many sensitive political cases, including those related to Charter 08, an open letter challenging Beijing's one-party rule and signed by more than 8,000 Chinese including intellectuals, writers, scholars, celebrities, retired party officials and ordinary citizens.

"Dissidents or human rights activists like Huang are seen as a nail in the eye and a thorn in the flesh by the government," said Mo, who has been able to meet his client only twice, in September and in December. "Since 2009 is a sensitive year, it's likely the government will tighten controls on these people."

Zeng said her husband has lost weight. "I'm not allowed to send him medicine. According to my husband's lawyer, public security officials told him if he promised not to continue human rights work after his release, they would let him go at once. But he refused."

Prosecutors and officials at the Wuhou District Court said they could not speak with foreign media.

Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

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