As Chinese activists mark the first anniversary of online calls for an Arab World-style "Jasmine Revolution" in China, authorities in the eastern province of Hangzhou announced they would try a prominent dissident for subversion.
The beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia last year sparked online calls for Chinese activists to begin their own Jasmine Revolution, prompting the detention and surveillance of hundreds of dissidents and rights defenders across the country.
Chinese activists say they were subjected to beatings, humiliation, and brainwashing techniques during the crackdown, which continues this week with the trial of Hangzhou-based pro-democracy activist Zhu Yufu for "incitement to subvert state power."
"The authorities used every kind of method to make people feel sub-human," said Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong. "This undermines a person's sense of themselves, and of their human dignity and values."
Guangzhou-based independent commentator Ye Du, who was himself detained for a period of time during the clampdown, was reluctant to discuss the experience.
"My treatment at that time was such that I can't bear to recollect it," Ye said.
Jiang said many of his friends and fellow activists felt similarly about their experiences at the hands of China's state security police.
While dozens of those detained by the authorities were eventually freed, many remain under close police surveillance. The Jasmine crackdown has also prompted a string of lengthy jail terms handed to prominent activists for subversion.
"They detained large numbers of people and eventually let them out again," said Wuhan-based rights activist Qin Yongmin.
"But just as everyone was thinking it was all behind us, and that they should let those remaining people go, they sentenced a whole string of people, Chen Xi, Li Tie, and Chen Wei, in the space of a month."
Qin said he believed the jail sentences handed to the three activists were the result of nationwide preparations for a crucial leadership succession at the 18th Party Congress later this year.
"The authorities are hoping that nothing big will happen ahead of the 18th Congress," he said. "So they are showing political dissidents what they're made of."
Rights groups estimate that at least 40 activists were held under criminal detention in the two months that followed the calls for a Jasmine Revolution—proposed silent demonstrations in major Chinese cities—that, in the event, appeared to attract more police and journalists than protesters.
Authorities in Hangzhou meanwhile announced they would try Zhu Yufu, a founding member of the now-banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP), for subversion on Tuesday, his wife said.
Zhu's trial would begin at th Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court at 9.00 a.m. local time, according to Jiang Hangli. Only two passes were issued for family to attend the proceedings, she said.
"Only close family members [can attend]," Jiang said, adding that she and the couple's daughter planned to attend the trial. "Even more distant relatives aren't allowed."
She said the case against her husband apparently hinged on a poem he posted online, titled "It is Time," calling on Chinese people to walk the streets in support of political change.
"I read the poem," Jiang said. "But my friends said they couldn't see anything in it ... The lawyer also said that he collected donations and asked about the families who had people in prison over Spring Festival."
"He also gave interviews to journalists; that's what the lawyer said."
'It Is Time'
Zhu was formally detained by Hangzhou police last March after he posted his poem, titled "It Is Time" online.
"It is time, people of China! It is time," the poem read. "The square belongs to us all; our feet are our own."
"It is time to use our feet to go to the square and to make a choice ... We should use our choices to decide the future of China," it said.
Zhu, 60, is a veteran activist who first caught the attention of the authorities during the Democracy Wall movement of 1978. He was sentenced in 1998 to a seven-year jail term for his involvement with an unprecedented attempt to register the Zhejiang provincial branch of the CDP as a civil organization with the authorities.
Prior to his most recent arrest, he had been under frequent surveillance by police.
Zhu's charge sheet mentioned his habit of giving interviews to foreign media, his publishing of "subversive" opinions, his propaganda on behalf of the CDP and his online promotion of calls for a Jasmine Revolution in China, according to fellow CDP activist Zou Wei.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Lin Ping for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.