BEIJING (Reuters) - One of China’s most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, pleaded not guilty to subversion charges on Tuesday, at a trial human rights advocates say is part of an attempt to stifle dissent before Beijing’s Olympics Games.
Prosecutors told the Beijing Number One Intermediate People’s Court that Hu “incited subversion of state power and the socialist system” on the Internet and in interviews with foreign reporters, said his lawyer, Li Fangping.
“He pleaded not guilty,” Li told Reuters after the trial that lasted about three-and-a-half hours. “He spoke very little. Mostly it was his lawyers speaking on his behalf.”
Hu’s mother attended the trial, but his father, uncle and fellow activist wife, with whom he has an infant daughter, were barred.
Eight Western diplomats were turned away and not allowed to attend the trial, one of the envoys said.
“They said tickets (to the trial) had been given away,” the envoy said, requesting anonymity.
As China prepares to display its growing prosperity and confidence at the Olympics opening on August 8, critics have said the trial shows the ruling Communist Party’s desire to silence domestic critics before the Games.
“Hu Jia’s case has been marked by grave rights violations from the outset,” New York-based group Human Rights Watch said in a statement e-mailed before his trial. “His arrest was political, the charges are political, and his trial is political.”
The lawyer said court officials had pressed for a copy of the defense statement, leading him to believe there could be a quick verdict.
“I think there could be a result quite soon, perhaps this week,” Li said.
If convicted, Hu could be jailed for up to five years.
Asked by Reuters to comment on the trial, Premier Wen Jiabao said individual cases would be handled in accordance with the law.
“As for critics’ view that China is trying to increase its efforts to arrest dissidents ahead the Olympic Games, I think all these accusations are unfounded,” Wen told a news conference.
He said China wanted to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as quickly as possible, but that China had to work on reconciling its laws with international standards.
China signed the covenant in 1998. It covers freedom of expression, religion, assembly movement and speech, participation in public affairs and elections, and equality.
Starting with work on behalf of rural AIDS sufferers, Hu, 34, emerged as one of the country’s most vocal and active advocates of democratic rights, religious freedom and autonomy for Tibet, whose capital Lhasa was rocked by riots last week.
A source close to the family said Hu was interrogated for six to 14 hours every night during the first month of detention.
“This deprivation of sleep and marathon interrogation is torture,” the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity for fear of repercussions.
Hu was detained by police in late December after spending more than 200 days under house arrest. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, and their daughter remain under house arrest. Their telephone line has been cut off.
Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Lindsay Beck; Editing by Alex Richardson