China put four political dissidents on trial for subversion today and charged the jailed leaders of a banned spiritual movement with the capital crime of stealing state secrets.
Analysts said the escalation of the government's campaign against dissent was designed as a slap at foreign critics and a clear warning to other would-be domestic opponents.
Human rights protesters have dogged a European tour by President Jiang Zemin over the past week, but the Chinese leader has ignored the Tibetan, labor rights and other activists who have greeted him noisily in Britain and France. Asked about the demonstrators today in Paris, Jiang told reporters: "I don't know their concerns exactly. In many countries I have visited, I have encountered this phenomenon."
But Lu Siqing, founder of the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, said that Chinese leaders intended to send a message by putting four prominent organizers of the China Democracy Party on trial today while Jiang was abroad. "They want to show their strong resolve against Western human rights policy," Lu said.
The four dissidents, all organizers of the China Democracy Party, are expected to be sentenced to lengthy jail terms within days. Authorities at the No. 1 Intermediate Court in the eastern city of Hangzhou stopped each of them as they tried to read their defense statements, according to the Hong Kong center.
In the case of one man, Zhu Yufu, court officials ripped the written text out of his hands and accused him of mouthing "anti-government propaganda," the center reported. The other men tried were graduate student Wu Yilong, longtime dissident Mao Qingxiang and Xu Guang.
Officials at the Public Security Ministry in Beijing, meanwhile, signaled that leaders of the Falun Gong exercise and meditation group will soon face trial on charges of stealing and leaking state secrets. Police investigators say they found 59 classified documents in the possession of group leaders, 20 of which were top secret, according to a dispatch by the official New China News Agency.
Thousands of people have been detained since China banned Falun Gong in July. Most were released after several days, but many leaders and some of the most committed followers of the movement remain in prison. Local authorities have been accused of severely beating, and in at least one case, killing those who refuse to abandon Falun Gong.
The government has grudgingly acknowledged that it has not been successful at disbanding the group. China's legislature today introduced a new anti-Falun Gong law that bans "heretic cults." In response, dozens of Falun Gong practitioners staged a sit-in in Beijing's Tiananmen Square before being taken away by police.
CAPTION: A member of a group called Free Tibet releases anti-China leaflets from a Paris rooftop onto Jiang Zemin's motorcade.