- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BEIJING — Chinese rights advocates are calling for the release of an Internet activist who will soon face trial in a case that they say highlights the government’s fear of increasingly bold public activism.

Supporters say Wang Lihong, 56, represents a growing breed of Internet-empowered Chinese activists — ordinary people who mobilize others to fight problems such as corruption or miscarriages of justice.

They say Ms. Wang is being punished for her involvement in a street protest in southern China against the prosecution of three bloggers.

“I believe that Wang Lihong has not committed any crime,” said Ai Xiaoming, a Guangzhou-based feminist scholar who helped set up a blog calling for Ms. Wang’s release. “She is someone who has emerged from the Internet era … to become an organizer of citizen action.”

Ms. Wang, held at a detention center in central Beijing, is expected to be tried in several weeks on the vaguely worded charge of “creating a disturbance” and will plead not guilty, said her attorney, Han Yicun. If convicted, she faces up to five years in jail.

The charge is linked to Ms. Wang’s participation in a demonstration outside a court in Fuzhou city in April last year in support of three bloggers accused of slander after they tried to help an illiterate woman pressure authorities to reinvestigate her daughter’s death.

About 30 Internet users from around the country traveled to the courthouse, where they waved banners and sang songs. The area was cordoned off, and police were stationed around the protesters.

One rights group said Chinese authorities deem Ms. Wang a threat because she represents a movement to use the Internet to organize real-world protests.

“That crucial step of moving protests from online to real social-political space is precisely what worries authorities,” said Renee Xia, international director of the rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

A Fuzhou government news office employee surnamed Jiang said Tuesday he had not heard about Ms. Wang’s case.

Public activism has surged in recent years, helped by the popularity of microblogs that allow rapid dissemination of information.

Bloggers have swung into action on prominent cases such as the mysterious death on Christmas of an activist village leader and a train crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou in July that killed at least 40 people.

Ms. Wang also joined several activists in publicly celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in October.

“I think the most important thing is that every person learns how to be their own citizen, and not become someone else’s subordinate,” Ms. Wang told the AP in an interview at that time.

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