December 12, 2009 / 5:46 AM / 10 years ago

China moves to trial of prominent dissident

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese prosecutors have indicted one of the nation’s best-known dissidents, Liu Xiaobo, on subversion charges, his lawyer said on Saturday, laying the way for a trial likely to draw an international outcry.

A portrait of one of China's best known dissidents Liu Xiaobo is displayed by a protester in front of the national emblem of China outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The lawyer, Shang Baojun, said prosecutors in Beijing had decided to try Liu on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for publishing essays critical of the ruling Communist Party and for his role in organizing the “Charter 08” petition of last year demanding democratic reforms.

Shang said he was notified by prosecutors on Wednesday and Liu could be tried any time 10 days after that date.

The indictment means one of China’s most prominent dissidents could be tried in Beijing around Christmas or the New Year, said Shang. But the court could also hold off for weeks before putting Liu in the dock, he added.

“I was mentally prepared for an indictment, but I wasn’t expecting the prosecutors to move so quickly,” Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, told Reuters by telephone.

Police investigators handed the case over to prosecutors to consider taking to trial earlier this week.

“This doesn’t look hopeful for him,” Liu Xia added. “But he will certainly fight the charges.”

If convicted, the 53-year-old dissident could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Police have said the charges against Liu are “serious,” suggesting authorities will seek a long term.

China’s Party-controlled courts rarely find in favor of defendants, especially in politically-charged cases.

The indictment is likely to draw fresh outcries over a case that has already become a focus for international pressure on China, which has bolstered controls on critics of Party rule.

European politicians and U.S. lawmakers have criticized the case, and last month visiting U.S. President Barack Obama pressed China on human rights.

Liu’s impending trial is also likely to galvanize dissidents and rights advocates within China.

He was detained by police just over a year ago, as he and other activists launched “Charter 08,” a petition urging sweeping democratic changes that attracted thousands of signatures.

A former literature professor, Liu has been a thorn in the Party’s side since 1989 when he joined a hunger strike supporting student protesters days before the army crushed the pro-democracy movement centered on Tiananmen Square on June 4 that year. He was later jailed for 20 months.

On Thursday, supporters of the “Charter 08” petition launched a fresh campaign, this time stating they were willing to “share responsibility with Liu Xiaobo,” reported Observe China (www.guancha.org), a Chinese-language website that reports on dissident activity in the country.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Alex Richardson

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