BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese prosecutors cited a poem and messages sent on Skype against a dissident who stood trial on Tuesday, his son and his lawyer said, in the latest case highlighting the Communist Party’s drive to silence political challengers.
Veteran activist Zhu Yufu faced trial in the prosperous eastern city of Hangzhou, where police arrested him in April and charged him with “inciting subversion of state power,” his lawyer, Li Dunyong, said.
The court did not deliver its verdict straight away. But Zhu, who turns 59 in February, appears likely to follow other Chinese dissidents who have received stiff prison terms from the party-run judiciary on subversion charges, which are often used to punish ardent advocates of democratic change.
In Zhu’s case, the prosecutors cited his poem, “It’s time,” as well as text messages that he sent using the Skype online chat service, said Li.
There was no suggestion that Skype helped police to collect evidence, he told Reuters by telephone.
“They took his computer away from his home and went through it,” he said of the Hangzhou police.
“His Internet contacts and password were saved on it, with automatic access, and when the police accessed it they could open the records of text messages saved on Skype. He had not erased the records.”
Skype’s online telephone and messaging service has become popular among Chinese activists as a cheap and relatively secure way to communicate.
Zhu’s wife, Jiang Hangli, told Reuters that she feared that he could join other dissidents recently given prison terms of nine years and longer for subversion. Chinese courts rarely find in favor of defendants.
“I hope he won’t face trouble, but that’s a wish. I don’t think that they’ll let him off lightly,” Jiang said in a telephone interview before the trial.
China’s Communist leaders are steeling for a leadership handover late this year, and their long-standing determination to stifle political challenges is likely to deepen. The government is also trying to quell flare-ups of protest in Tibetan areas in the country’s west.
Beijing has rejected criticism that Chinese human rights conditions have worsened, especially since 2010, when authorities cracked down out of fear that anti-authoritarian upheavals across the Arab world could trigger unrest in China.
Like two dissidents given sentences of 10 and nine years in December, Zhu was jailed before for his pro-democracy activism, making it more likely that he too will get a heavy sentence. He was jailed in 1999 for seven years and in 2007 for two years, said the Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Zhu’s son, Zhu Ang, said he and his mother, Jiang Hangli, were the only two family members allowed to attend the trial, which lasted a morning. Other kin and supporters were kept out.
“My father seemed listless and even exhausted, but he was mentally together,” Zhu Ang told Reuters by telephone. “His defense was that he was not advocating subversion but urging progress, which is nothing illegal.”
The charges against Zhu also centered on a poem, “It’s time,” which he circulated online, said the lawyer Li.
A version of the poem that has circulated on the Internet, declares: “It’s time, Chinese people!/ The square belongs to everyone/the feet are yours/it’s time to use your feet and take to the square to make a choice.”
References to a “square” might evoke memories among many Chinese people of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the epicenter of pro-democracy protests in 1989 that were quelled by armed troops. But the poem did not mention that.
At the trial, Zhu rejected the charge that the poem amounted to “inciting subversion,” said Li.
“He said the poem was not urging an assembly, because the people were in different cities and places, and he did not tell them a specific time or place to assemble,” said Li.
“As well, there’s no legal prohibition on going to a square,” added the lawyer, citing Zhu’s words. “Everyone has the right to walk on a square.”
Li said the court was likely to deliver its verdict in February.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)
This story was corrected in the third paragraph to change the age