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31/07/2009 | China Holds Rights Lawyer, Sets Activist Trial Date

Reuters Staff

A leading Chinese legal aid lawyer has been taken from his home, and a date fixed for the trial of an activist for possessing state secrets, in the latest blows to the country's small community of rights campaigners.

 

Xu Zhiyong, co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative, or Gongmeng, was seized by security officials at dawn on Wednesday and has been out of contact since, his colleagues said.

Another Gongmeng worker has also been missing since Wednesday, the group's website (www.gongmeng.cn) said.

In southwestern Sichuan, a trial date has been set for activist Huang Qi, detained after helping parents of children killed in last year's earthquake in the province, his wife said.

The hearing had already been postponed and she had hoped the case, now due to open on Wednesday, might be dropped.

The detention of Xu and the trial of Huang are the latest tightening of Beijing's grip on the country's determined but small activist community, which has come under intense government pressure in a year with several sensitive anniversaries.

In June Beijing marked 20 years since the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square, and in October the country celebrates the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic.

"This will not influence my work but I think for the overall community of Chinese rights defenders it will of course have an impact because the risks we face are so big, and so clear," said Teng Biao, a rights lawyer and academic.

"This is a difficult time. The pressure is very high."

Challenging Beijing

Made up of scholars, lawyers and rights advocates, Xu's Gongmeng group has annoyed Beijing with a series of high-profile operations, including providing legal aid to victims of tainted baby milk formula and with a report criticising the handling of demonstrations across the Tibetan plateau last year.

The group's Beijing office was shut down for non-payment of taxes earlier this month, and Xu was supposed to have attended an official hearing about the case on Thursday.

Instead, he was hustled from his home early on Wednesday by security officials, colleagues said.

The clampdown on legal activists has coincided with a tightening of Internet controls, which China says targets porn but critics say has also hit politically sensitive websites.

The most noted Chinese human rights lawyer to be detained is Gao Zhisheng. Gao has challenged the Chinese regime on its persecution of Christians and Falun Gong adherents; Gao has been outspoken about the restoration of human rights for all Chinese.

Gao has been arrested and tortured on several occasions. Currently, his whereabouts are unknown after the Chinese regime seized him.

he website of Yirenping, a Beijing-based group that educates hepatitis sufferers about treatment and rights, and helps them sue in cases of job discrimination, has been closed for 10 days.

Yirenping also faces a hearing for unauthorised publishing of materials it prints and distributes to hepatitis patients, its coordinator Lu Jun said.

"We think it’s because we defend rights," Lu told Reuters.

Officials have also sentenced folk singer and activist Huang Wei to 18 months of re-education through labour, after detaining him ahead of a planned memorial concert in Tiananmen Square, the group China Human Rights Defenders said.

In Sichuan, Huang's wife said she feared for her husband.

"I've not even been able to see Huang for the last year," Zeng Li told Reuters by telephone.

Huang, 45, was taken into custody in June 2008 and faces trial for "illegal possession of state secrets", a sweeping charge that can mean lengthy jail terms in China. His lawyer Mo Shaoping was unsure how long the trial would last.

"It's sensitive as it's to do with state secrets," Mo said.

China's handling of state secrets gained global attention this month with the detention on spying charges of employees working for Australian miner Rio Tinto.

**Additional reporting by The Epoch Times 

The Epoch Times (Estados Unidos)

 


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