Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei are trying a prominent Internet activist behind closed doors on a day when it was known that his defense lawyer would be unable to attend, RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services report.
Former government official Du Daobin was detained in October 2003 and charged with incitement to subvert state power after posting several essays critical of the Chinese government on the Internet.
Du's trial was scheduled at the Intermediate People's Court at Xiaogan City on May 17, a day on which Du's lawyer Mo Shaoping had previously said he would be unable to attend, the New York-based nonprofit Human Rights in China (HRIC) said in a statement.
"The court normally would accommodate an attorney's scheduling conflict, which happens often but would normally be resolved through coordination with the court," Du's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said in an interview. "I haven't encountered such an uncompromising stance before. Perhaps [the court] was in a difficult situation that was hard to express."
Had he been able to attend, Mo said he would have told the court that Du "had written online articles containing a total of more than 1500,000 characters, but they selected a few thousand characters deemed as having problems. One should look at an issue as a whole and not garble statements."
"Second, the charges of inciting and subversion of the state power should have relevant substance. What Du Daobin did was only to comment on government corruption and call for direct elections," Mo said. "Calling for direct elections and democracy doesn't constitute the substance of subversion of the state power. Last, changes have been made to the constitution. Respect for and protection of human rights have been added. Freedom of speech as a basic human right is now recognized."
HRIC said the lawyer originally appointed to represent Du, Li Zongyi, had taken the initiative to contact Du's wife, Xia Chunyong, and offered to represent Du in court. But Li had reportedly agreed to assist Du only in obtaining a lighter sentence and was unwilling to present an oral argument if Du were to maintain his innocence, the statement quoted sources as saying.
"Mo Shaoping had presented the court with his schedule of commitments... He was notified just three days ago to present his defense statement on Du's behalf," the HRIC statement said.
"Mo was unable to rearrange his other commitments on such short notice, and so will not be able to appear at the trial. Mo has had no option but to file his written statement with the court, depriving Du of effective oral argument and significantly weakening his defense," it said.
In early February, the Xiaogan prosecutor's office referred Du's case back to police because of insufficient evidence. Police then produced the text of a speech Du once gave at Huazhong Normal College, after which the Xiaogan prosecutor formally indicted Du for subversion on April 21, 2004.
"He wrote a lot of articles subverting the government,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said May 17. "He was involved in subversion of state sovereignty," Liu told a regular news briefing, but he declined to comment further.
Du, who once campaigned for the release of student Internet activist Liu Di, has become the subject of a number of petitions, including one in February signed by more than 100 Chinese intellectuals. That petition called for Du's release and demanded official clarification of exactly what activities constitute "incitement to subvert state power."
China has kept a tight hold on Internet use by its citizens for fear that critics could organize themselves into an effective opposition and disseminate their views to China's fast-growing population of cyber-surfers.
Government filters block access to Web sites abroad run by dissidents, human rights groups, and some news organizations. The content of domestic sites is monitored and sometimes censored. Banned Web sites also include those offering pornography and those belonging to banned organizations such as the Falungong spiritual movement.
Chinese authorities are thought to have detained more than 30 people since the Internet boom began in the late 1990s as part of its crackdown on online dissent. Overall, the government has sought to encourage Internet use for business and educational purposes but not for political discussion.