An environmental activist and former forestry official in Hainan went on trial Thursday for illegally publishing a book that highlighted mass local opposition to a coal-fired power plant on the southern Chinese island's coast.
Liu Futang, 64, who has been detained since July, faced charges of "conducting illegal business," his lawyer, who gave only his surname Wu, said ahead of the hearing.
Liu has been a vocal critic of the estimated 1.9 billion yuan (U.S. $301 million) nationally commissioned power station, which was opposed by thousands of residents of Yinggehai township in Hainan's Ledong county during a consultation exercise earlier this year.
Wu said that authorities accused Liu of illegal publication for a book about tensions over the coal plant that he had self-published and distributed for free among friends.
"They have falsely accused Mr. Liu of conducting illegal business on trumped-up charges. The books that Liu published were all given away to friends, and now those people are being used as witnesses against him," he said, adding that the charges were part of a bid to silence further opposition to the plant.
Two others were held for assisting Liu with publishing and printing the book, but Liu was the only one remaining in custody, Wu said.
"The other people who were detained were released on bail, and they've all gone home."
A veteran member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and former director of Hainan's forest fire prevention office, Liu had dared to challenge central government directives and angered local officials for investigating residents' opposition to the power plant, Wu said.
"He annoyed a lot of developers and vested interests, so the authorities took the opportunity to deal with him."
Investigating power plant
Liu was taken away by police from a local hospital after he sought treatment for high blood pressure on July 20, following Hainan authorities' renewal of plans to build the power station on the coast near Yinggehai after attempts to move the site to other villages in the same county failed.
The decision sparked renewed clashes with local residents and a vow by protesters to continue the campaign to have the project canceled.
Liu, who isn't himself a resident of the town, traveled there in April to hear residents' views, as well as to gather expert opinions on the siting of the plant, Wu said.
He criticized the project as presenting a threat to the local environment and ecosystem, writing about his opposition to the project via China's popular microblogging services.
Wu said Liu had spoken out on behalf of the town's residents when no one else did, or could.
"After the bloody clashes between residents and police in Yinggehai, the authorities have implemented an information blackout," he said. "But Liu still went to the village and the hospital to visit those who were injured, at considerable personal risk."
But Liu had angered some locally powerful people in the process, Wu said.
"He told the rest of the world about our problems, and criticized local officials for wanton destructiveness in pursuit of profit."
Wu said Liu's family had refused to have a rights lawyer represent him in the trial at the Longhua District People's Court in the provincial capital of Haikou.
"I called his family to tell them that a well-known lawyer from Beijing had agreed to represent him, but they politely declined," Wu said. "They wanted to wait until after the verdict at the trial, and then decide."
"His family are hoping that Liu will get a suspended sentence," he said. "If he gets a jail term upwards of five years, then they'll hire a rights lawyer," Wu said.
Calls to the cell phone of Liu's son went unanswered this week.
Hainan authorities have changed their minds several times about the location of the plant since January, when it met with fierce opposition from residents of Yinggehai, who clashed with police on a number of occasions.
The planned site then moved to Foluo and Huangliu townships in the same county, meeting with similar resistance there earlier this year.
When protests against the plant escalated in Foluo township in April, one website reported residents had stormed a government building and smashed up offices and dormitories.
Residents reported dozens of injuries from beatings and tear gas at the hands of riot police amid clashes sparked by a number of earlier arrests over opposition to the project.
The government said last month that the project, which was initially proposed in 2007 but only approved last November, would go ahead in Yinggehai as previously planned.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.