HONG KONG—Hard on the heels of a state visit to China by U.S. President Barack Obama, authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have begun the trial of a former 1989 student leader and will shortly sentence an activist who tried to help victims of last year's devastating earthquake.
Authorities in Sichuan's Shehong county began the trial of U.S. resident and former leader of China’s 1989 student movement Zhou Yongjun for “economic fraud” after he tried to visit his ailing father in 2008, just one day after Obama ended his three-day trip.
"This case definitely exists," Zhou's lawyer Chen Zerui said.
"But there is no evidence whatsoever to show that Zhou Yongjun is directly connected to it."
Zhou was a student at the Chinese University for Political Science and Law at the time of the student protests and ensuing military crackdown on June 4, 1989, in which hundreds died.
He was among a group of students who knelt in front of the Great Hall of the People on April 22 to present a list of demands to China’s leaders after the death of moderate premier Hu Yaobang.
Chen, assistant to top Beijing-based lawyer Mo Shaoping, was retained only in late August after Zhou’s family tried to hire Mo to defend him in May.
He said he had already called into question some of the evidence presented by police.
"I have asked for a suitable agency to review the evidence based on handwriting," he said, adding that he had also found holes in the legal procedures used to bring the case against Zhou.
Zhou's relatives, who attended the trial, said he didn't look himself.
"He seemed in low spirits and his voice was very faint," said a brother-in-law surnamed Ye. "We wondered if he was sick."
"It has been such heartache for our family. Zhou disappeared for about a year, and we were all very worried. His parents are old, and they are extremely distressed," Ye said.
Meanwhile, a court in the provincial capital Chengdu said it would announce its decision in the trial of cyber-dissident Huang Qi for "possession of state secrets."
"I received a phone call and a fax... from the court," said rights lawyer Mo, who is acting on Huang's behalf.
"They said the sentencing would be open and that relatives could attend."
Mo added that there had been no opportunity for Huang, 46, to defend himself throughout the trial, which was held at Chengdu's Wuhou district People's Court.
"There was no opportunity for either Huang Qi or his lawyer to say anything throughout the trial," Mo said, adding that a typical sentence for the charge of "possessing state secrets" was three years' imprisonment.
"They just read out a statement. I didn't send a lawyer over to save the fees. If he is found guilty, we will appeal."
Huang's wife Zeng Li said she has had no direct communication from the court regarding her husband's case.
"I am very worried now. If they send him to jail, Huang Qi won't be able to get medical treatment in prison," she said.
"He is in very poor health."
Held after quake
Huang was detained by the Sichuan authorities on June 10, 2008 after he tried to help parents of children who died in the May 12 earthquake to investigate allegations of shoddy construction following the collapse of school buildings across the quake-hit region in which thousands of schoolchildren died.
He was formally arrested on July 18, 2008.
Zhou, who is a permanent resident of the United States with two children, was detained in the wake of the June 4 crackdown and released in 1991 following international political pressure for the release of student leaders.
He arrived in the United States in 1992, and was granted permanent residency.
Zhou’s case highlights the situation of dozens of Chinese political activists who have been allowed to leave China and seek asylum in the United States, but are now unable to get permission to return to visit relatives.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.