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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Diplomats shut out of Chinese dissident's trial

December 24, 2009

By CARA ANNA (AP) December 23, 2009

BEIJING ? A high-profile Chinese dissident accused of subversion was
tried at a two-hour hearing Wednesday that shut out foreign diplomats
concerned over a case that reflects the communist government's deep
suspicion of calls for political reform.

Liu Xiaobo was detained a year ago, just before the release of an
unusually direct appeal for more civil rights in China he co-authored
called Charter 08, signed by scores of China's top intellectuals. He
faces up to 15 years in jail. The verdict is due Friday.

International human rights groups and Western nations have heavily
criticized Liu's detention. A dozen diplomats, including from the United
States, Britain, Germany, Australia and Canada, stood outside the
Beijing courthouse in freezing weather, barred from entering, along with
a handful of Liu's Chinese supporters.

"We call on the government of China to release him immediately," said
Gregory May, first secretary with the U.S. Embassy. The European Union
made a similar appeal.

Liu, 53, a literary critic and former professor, spent 20 months in jail
for joining the 1989 student-led protests in Tiananmen Square that were
crushed in a military crackdown. In his writings, most published only on
the Internet, he has strongly called for civil rights and political reform.

Charter 08 demands a new constitution guaranteeing human rights, the
open election of public officials, and freedom of religion and
expression. Some 10,000 people have signed it in the past year, though a
news blackout and Internet censorship have left most Chinese unaware
that it exists.

Liu has been the only person arrested over the charter, but rights
groups said several signers have been harassed or fired from their jobs,
and warned not to attend the trial or write about it online.

However a few of them risked turning up at the courthouse Wednesday,
where dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police were deployed. They
passed out yellow ribbons but doubted Liu would go free.

"It's not like we stand out here today and tomorrow China gets
democracy," said one signer, 36-year-old Cao Jinbai. "This trial is
already decided."

Liu is charged with inciting to subvert state power, a vaguely worded
charge that is routinely used to jail dissidents and carries a penalty
of up to 15 years in prison.

Liu's wife said she was not allowed to leave her home to attend the
trial. Liu's brother-in-law, Liu Hui, was allowed inside and said Liu
appeared to be healthy and in good spirits.

Liu admitted "to practicing his freedom of speech, but did not admit to
trying to overturn the state's power," the brother-in-law said.

The prosecution did not say what penalty they wanted if Liu is found guilty.

"As always, Liu Xiaobo believed that he is innocent," his lawyer, Shang
Baojun, said by telephone after the trial.

People answering phones at the No. 1 Intermediate People's Court in
Beijing would not comment on the trial or why the diplomats and many
others were barred from entering.

Coming despite months of international pressure on China to release Liu,
the trial underscores the government's determination to squelch dissent
and other perceived threats to political stability in the one-party state.

Last month, veteran dissident Huang Qi, who had criticized the
government's response to a 2008 earthquake, was sentenced to three years
in prison. Weeks before that, the founder of a Tibetan literary Web site
was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of disclosing state
secrets, according to an overseas monitoring group. The charges appeared
related to the passing of information about anti-government protests in
Tibet last year.

The barring of diplomats from Wednesday's court proceedings also
emphasizes the limited leverage Western governments, including the U.S.,
have with China in such cases.

Despite the call for Liu's release, the Obama administration has
generally tried to keep disputes over human rights, a perennial irritant
in relations, from damaging a broader agenda crowded with the economic
crisis, climate change, nuclear proliferation and other global issues.

New York-based Human Rights Watch was deeply skeptical that Liu would
get justice.

"The only purpose of this trial is to dress up naked political
repression in the trappings of legal proceedings," Sophie Richardson,
the group's advocacy director for Asia, said in a statement.

Liu's supporters who turned up at the courthouse said they had read
about his case on Twitter after finding a way around China's blocking of
the microblogging site. The hearing also attracted other Chinese with
grievances against the government who snuck through the ring of police
to make their cases to foreign media.

They were dispersed and in some cases detained after the trial was over.

Tong Guojing, 47, a Charter 08 signer, said police detained him on his
way to the subway after the trial and asked why he was in Beijing. He
was made to wait at a processing center to be picked up by authorities
from his hometown Shanghai.

"They asked about the yellow ribbons," he said by telephone from the
processing center. "This is ridiculous."

He recounted how Shanghai police had visited him twice before to warn
him against signing the charter, but he did anyway. He said it was not
intended to sabotage the communist regime.

"Liu's our hero," he said. "It wasn't meant to overthrow the government.
It was advice."

Associated Press writer Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.
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