- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

BEIJING Two leaders of massive labor protests last spring in China's industrial northeast are to be indicted for subversion, a charge that can carry the death penalty, family members said yesterday.

Laid-off workers Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang have been in jail since March after their arrests on charges of illegal parade and assembly.

Those charges apparently stemmed from their roles as organizers of labor protests in the city of Liaoyang that attracted tens of thousands of workers demanding more government support.

However, the men's daughters said prosecutors told them their fathers were being indicted on the more serious subversion charge and ordered them to pick up copies of the indictments on Saturday.

"We'll know after then when the trial will start," Xiao Yunliang's daughter, Xiao Yu, said by telephone from the family home in Liaoyang, about 370 miles northeast of Beijing.

Miss Xiao said she had no idea on what evidence the new charge was based.

Mr. Yao's daughter, Yao Dan, said she doubted whether anything the men had done could constitute subversion, a charge usually applied to independent political activists challenging the Communist Party's monopoly on power.

Authorities "don't really bother much about evidence. If that's what they've decided to charge him with, they'll find something to make it stick," Miss Yao said.

Both women said they last saw their fathers three months ago and that they appeared in poor physical condition. Mr. Xiao had lost a considerable amount of weight and Mr. Yao was suffering from heart palpitations and high blood pressure, they said.

Mr. Yao's attorney said prosecutors told an assistant that the subversion indictments had been sent to the court.

"We will start preparing our defense after we receive the indictment," said the attorney, Mo Shaoping.

The spring protests in Liaoyang and another northeastern city, Daqing, were some of the largest reported since the Communist Party seized power in 1949.

Labor discontent is strong across the northeast, where millions of workers have lost their jobs in shutdowns of state industries.

Two other men arrested about the same time as Mr. Yao and Mr. Xiao were released last month and were told on Monday that they would not be indicted, Miss Yao said.

However, one of them, Wang Zhaoming, was taken back into custody on Tuesday after he hired a lawyer to sue the city police over his detention, said the New York-based human rights group China Labor Watch.

Calls to the Liaoyang prosecutor's office were unanswered yesterday, a national holiday.

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