- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BEIJING — A Chinese land rights activist went on trial for subversion yesterday for protesting the Beijing Olympics in a case highlighting China’s efforts to clamp down on dissent before the summer games.

Yang Chunlin, led into court in handcuffs and leg irons, pleaded not guilty in the hearing before the Intermediate People’s Court in the northeastern city of Jiamusi, said his lead attorney, Li Fangping.

Mr. Yang, a laid-off factory worker, became involved with farmers outside Jiamusi demanding redress for farmland taken from them by officials for development. He gathered 10,000 signatures for an open letter demanding land rights for farmers. To rally support, he posted the letter on the Internet with the title: “We want human rights, not the Olympics.”

Mr. Yang’s case is among the most highly charged before the August games, challenging the communist government’s ambitions to use the Olympics to boost its legitimacy.

The official charge against him — inciting subversion of state power — is one commonly used against political dissidents, and in eight months in detention, Mr. Yang has been given little contact with his attorney or family, who have said he was tortured.

Much of the nearly five-hour trial session was spent arguing about whether Mr. Yang’s Olympic protest slogan counted as subversion, said an account posted on a human rights Web site that was corroborated by Mr. Li.

“Debate centered on ‘We want human rights, not the Olympics,’ ” Mr. Li said. He said two types of evidence were presented against Mr. Yang: one involving the Olympics petition, the other articles Mr. Yang had written that reportedly attacked the socialist system and state leaders.

Mr. Li said his defense team argued that the land the farmers lost had been seized illegally because it was taken without the Cabinet’s permission, as required by regulations.

The Intermediate Court on Monday reversed an earlier decision to hold the trial behind closed doors and instead opened it to the public, a move that likely reflected Beijing’s nervousness over the attention the case has attracted from overseas press and human rights groups.

“This decision came from Beijing. They want a trial that looks good,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. “The charges are clearly in contravention of international standards, criminalizing speech.”

Mr. Yang was detained in July and formally arrested a month later. His sister said earlier that he was tortured while in detention, with his arms and legs stretched and chained to the corners of an iron bed.

China has been cracking down on dissent ahead of the Olympics. Earlier this month, a Chinese court sentenced democracy activist Lu Gengsong to four years in prison for “inciting to subvert state power.”

Another well-known activist, Hu Jia, was taken from his home in December and arrested on similar charges. He is in custody, and there is no word on when he will face trial.

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