Authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan began the trial on Monday of pro-democracy activist Li Tie on subversion charges following protests at the weekend over the detention of artist Ai Weiwei.
Li’s trial, for “incitement to subvert state power,” began at the Intermediate People’s Court in Wuhan, amid a growing crackdown on political dissent and calls for the release of detained artist and social critic Ai Weiwei.
Only Li’s mother and daughter were given permission to attend his trial, along with around 20 police and court officials, his daughter said.
“I went in with my grandmother,” said Li Yueming. “My uncle waited outside, because they only gave us two permits.”
“There were about 20 people in the court. I didn’t recognize any of them. They were wearing plain clothes.”
She said Li’s lawyer had made only brief remarks, and had argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of “incitement to subvert state power.”
“We thought there wasn’t enough evidence, either,” Li Yueming said. “There were no witnesses … My father didn’t do anything; he just expressed his views.”
“He said he would be prepared to apologize for any views that were considered ‘too extreme’.”
Li was detained on Sept. 15 and later “dropped” his Beijing-based rights attorney, Jin Guanghong, police said at the time.
According to the China Human Rights Defenders website, “Li … has written extensively about democracy and constitutional government in online articles.”
Accused of subversion
On Sunday, the family had expressed surprise at the charges against Li.
“Mostly, my father doesn’t leave the house,” Li Yueming said ahead of the trial. “He just stays at home, and he doesn’t go to work because he doesn’t have a job.”
She said Li had written “a couple” of articles online, mostly about the political thought of former supreme leader Mao Zedong.
“I think the charges against him are inexplicable,” she said. “From the time they detained him they haven’t been able to come up with a single piece of solid evidence against him.”
U.S.-based democracy activist Liu Nianchun said it was still theoretically possible to be accused of subversion when writing about Mao Zedong’s political thought, however.
“There are several articles in Mao’s writings that call on the poor to rise up [against oppression],” Liu said. “You can find this sort of thing wherever you look.”
“The government certainly won’t stand for anyone who uses Mao Zedong Thought to attack corruption in its ranks, or the gap between rich and poor,” he added.
“Such a thing would be horrifying to them,” he said. “According to their language, they would call this “using the Red Flag to attack the Red Flag.”
Liu said among China’s farming communities and other disempowered people, Mao’s image was still hugely powerful.
“It would probably still find resonance among workers, farmers and the utterly powerless and dispossessed,” he said.
Ordinary Chinese who pursue official complaints against the government have banded together in a number of major cities to sing revolutionary songs from the Mao era in public.
Their unofficial “concerts” are usually dispersed by police.
Police also dispersed a group of protesters who gathered at the 798 artists’ compound in Beijing over the weekend, wearing T-shirts and carrying banners and placards calling for the release of Ai Weiwei, who is currently under investigation for “economic crimes.”
“There were quite a lot of people at the 798 compound,” said one eyewitness, a woman surnamed Wang. “There were police everywhere, and police vehicles.”
Video of the protest showed a few dozen protesters shouting slogans, filmed by journalists and surrounded by police outside a compound gate.
The 798 artists’ compound has already announced that it will hold a music concert next month titled “Love the Future,” a word-play referring to Ai Weiwei’s name.
Chinese officials say Ai’s case has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression, with official media slamming calls for his release from the international community.
An editorial published on Saturday in the Global Times, a paper with close ties to the Communist Party, said Ai’s case had prompted a fresh wave of political attacks from Western countries.
“There is only one reason for the level of protection Ai is receiving in the West,” the paper said. “And that is active opposition to China’s current political reality.”
Li’s trial and Ai’s detention came amid a nationwide clampdown sparked by government fears of a “Jasmine” uprising inspired by recent events in the Middle East.
Reported by Yang Jiadai, Xin Yu and Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service.
Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.