Trial for Key Chinese Human-Rights Activist

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Chinese authorities have put on trial prominent human-rights activist Hu Jia, who used the Internet to publicize the plight of other dissidents. His case has drawn international attention as China cracks down on human-rights crusaders in advance of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.  As U.S. News reported in February,  Hu was held under house arrest by the Chinese authorities before being arrested and imprisoned last December.

As the Associated Press reports, Hu is being tried at the Beijing No. 1 People's Intermediate Court. Canadian and Australian diplomats who tried to observe the trial were turned away. Two local lawyers and friends of Hu's also were denied entry after being told the case was "sensitive."

One of Hu's lawyers, Li Fangping, said on his way into court that his client was healthy and in good spirits, the AP reported. He expected Hu to receive a five-year sentence on the charge of inciting subversion of state power.

"We think the explanation for this accusation is very unclear. If you apply it to any normal citizen, it can be a way of controlling freedom of expression," Li said.

One lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, said he was turned away from the trial, even though there were free seats and he had applied in advance to attend. Only four people were allowed entry, he said. "I fear that because there are no media, no independent third party, it will affect a fair trial," he said.

Beijing routinely uses the nebulous charge of subversion to imprison dissidents for years. Li said earlier this month that an indictment cited comments Hu made during interviews with foreign media and articles he wrote that were posted on Boxun.com, a Chinese-language website hosted in the United States and banned in China. The North Carolina-based site carries reports and essays on a wide range of issues rarely seen in the Chinese state media, from corruption cases to calls for greater democracy.

It was not immediately clear whether Hu's wife, fellow activist Zeng Jinyan, was able to attend the trial. Zeng has lived under virtual house arrest for months, and Li said he was unable to reach her by phone. A friend of Zeng, Zhou Li, who was waiting outside the court with more than a dozen of Hu's acquaintances and supporters said Zeng was at home with her newborn baby girl.