3 activists put back on trial in China

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Originally published by The New York Times on July 25, 2015

BEIJING — The trial of three prominent rights campaigners on charges of inciting subversion continued Friday in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, amid a crackdown on human-rights lawyers that has drawn international condemnation.

The proceedings against the three, Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting and Wang Qingying, resumed Thursday after a month-long halt and continued Friday. The defendants have been held for more than a year since being detained for promoting nonviolent civil disobedience and distributing books about democracy.

Wang Yanfang, the wife of Tang, 44, a well-known human rights lawyer, said Thursday that her husband had denied in court that he sought to overthrow the government, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. He told the court that he had simply downloaded books from the Internet, not written or edited them, she said.

“We all know that he is innocent,” Wang said by telephone. “But the overall situation is critical these days, and there is not much we can do.”

The trial was suspended in June, after the defendants dismissed their lawyers in a bid to prevent it from proceeding. The court had refused to allow their defense team to call witnesses and rejected requests to prevent Communist Party members from sitting on the bench.

Wu Kuiming, the lawyer for Wang Qingying, 32, a former teacher, said by telephone Thursday that the activists would plead innocent. He said the court had continued to prohibit the defense team from calling witnesses to testify, though prosecutors were allowed to do so.

About 250 rights lawyers and associates have been detained, arrested or questioned by Chinese authorities this month, including one of the Guangzhou defendants’ attorneys, Sui Muqing.

“The situation is severe all across the country,” Wu said.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” about the Guangzhou case and about what appears to be a systematic pattern of arrests and detentions of rights advocates who “peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions.”

In September, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention asked the Chinese government to immediately release the three Guangzhou defendants, citing what it called the arbitrary deprivation of their liberty.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group, said in a statement this week that the trials of the Guangzhou defendants and others “represent brazen defiance of international human-rights standards that China voluntarily pledged to ‘promote’ as it sought membership on the Human Rights Council, where it currently holds a seat,” referring to the U.N. council.

As the trial in Guangzhou resumed, many police officers were deployed around the courthouse and foreign diplomats were barred from entering the courtroom. On Thursday, a phalanx of plainclothes security agents brandished large, black umbrellas to obscure views of several of the defendants’ supporters being led away by police, according to witnesses and photographs posted to Twitter.

One of the detained supporters, Ouyang Jinghua, 75, said by telephone Friday that police had taken away about a dozen people Thursday afternoon after checking their identification.

“We did nothing wrong,” said Ouyang, a retired official from the central province of Hunan who made the 14-hour journey to Guangzhou to support the defendants. “We decided on our own to attend the trial because someone has to be there.”

The supporters, he said, were brought to an empty school nearby and kept behind barricades while police officers and state security agents took statements. Ouyang said he was being forcibly sent back to his hometown by train.

Information for this article was contributed by Yufan Huang of The New York Times.

A Section on 07/25/2015

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