Trial of dissident Chinese writer Lu Gengsong opens as curbs tighten on dissent

He was detained for writing that 'subverted the state.'

A Chinese dissident writer pleaded not guilty on Tuesday at the opening of his trial to charges of "inciting subversion of state power" over essays he wrote criticizing the state, his lawyer and his wife said.

Lü Gengsong was detained last August.

"Lü Gengsong penned 226 essays. In one of them he called for the depoliticization of the People's Liberation Army and the police. The authorities charged him with inciting to subvert the state," his lawyer, Ding Xikui, said by telephone.

No date had been set for a verdict and it was not clear if there would be another hearing, Mr. Ding added.

Mr. Lü is being tried by the Intermediate People's Court in Hangzhou, capital of the wealthy eastern coastal province of Zhejiang.

"He is definitely innocent. The charges against him are within the boundaries of freedom of speech," Lü's wife, Wang Xue'e, told Reuters.

More than 1,100 Chinese rights defenders, writers, scholars, and lawyers at home and abroad have signed a petition calling for Lü's release.

A group of Chinese dissidents this month signed an open letter urging the government, which has stepped up curbs on the media, the Internet, academics, and civil rights campaigners, to improve human rights ahead of this year's Beijing Olympics.

Police prevented Ms. Wang from traveling to Beijing to petition on his behalf, the New York-based watchdog Human Rights in China said.

Authorities threatened that if she proceeded, she would be dismissed from her job and their daughter's schooling would also be affected, the group said.

After graduating from Hangzhou University, now known as Zhejiang University, in 1983 with a degree in history, Lü taught at a special training school for police officers, but was fired in 1993 for activities in support of democratic reform.

In recent years, he supported himself as a freelance writer and published a book "Corruption in the Communist Party of China" in 2000. He also published a number of articles on corruption, organized crime, and related topics.

More recently, he has followed rights defense activities, incLüding reporting on the sentencing of a petitioner evicted from his Hangzhou home, Human Rights in China said.

"As the Olympic year begins, it is disturbing to see that during China's intense preparations for the Games, there is an equally intense crackdown on human rights defenders," Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom said in a statement.

"Only 11 days into 2008, Lü Gengsong has been indicted, (AIDS activist) Hu Jia criminally detained, and (blind rights campaigner) Chen Guangcheng's wife, Yuan Weijing, continues to be harassed," Hom added. "These are only three examples of China's failure to honor its commitment to a 'Free and Open Olympics.' "

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