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Activist detained for past eight months, allegedly tortured, on trial for petition against illegal land seizures

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a 19 February 2008 Human Rights Watch press release:

China: Olympic Activist Deprived of Due Process
Proceedings Failed to Meet Minimum Fair Trial Standards

(New York, February 19, 2008) - The trial of Yang Chunlin, the land rights activist who collected more than 10,000 signatures for his petition, "We want human rights, not the Olympics," did not meet minimum standards of fair trial and due process, Human Rights Watch said today.

Yang's trial on February 19 lasted less than a day. Yang, an activist from Heilongjiang province, was arrested in July 2007 for his involvement in a petition against illegal land seizures by officials and writing essays denouncing official wrongdoings. These activities form the basis of the charges of "inciting subversion against state power." In recent months, Human Rights Watch has documented the use of similar charges against six other dissidents and activists, indicating a trend of suppressing speech in advance of the August 2008 Beijing Olympic Games ( http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/06/china17986.htm ).

"Yang's trial is of considerable significance," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Soon it will be official that objecting to the Olympics is a crime in China."

Human Rights Watch noted repeated, grave, and uncorrected procedural violations throughout Yang's case that amounted to a denial of due process. Those included serious allegations of torture and the court's refusal to investigate them, denial by the police of access to his defense lawyers until many weeks after his initial arrest, unsubstantiated claims by the police that the case involved "state secrets," inadequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense, police intimidation against relatives, and threats made against the defense lawyers. Such procedural flaws are violations of international law.

According to information from Citizen's Rights and Livelihood Watch, an independent Chinese human rights monitoring group, Yang told his lawyer he had been allowed out of his cell only about once a month during his eight-month-long, pre-trial detention, was not informed of the date of his trial until the previous day, and was refused pen and paper to prepare his defense before then. He appeared at the court hearing with his hands and feet shackled. After his lawyers protested, Yang was unshackled but then made to sit with his legs tied to a metal chair. Yang and his lawyers pleaded not guilty. A verdict is expected in the coming weeks.

Human Rights Watch has documented an increasing use of subversion charges to silence dissent and to an intensification of the Chinese government's efforts to suppress human rights and legal activists ahead of the Olympics, in violation of promises it made while bidding to host the Games.

"The Chinese government must recognize that the Games will only be truly successful if the perception is that China has kept its word about better respecting human rights," said Richardson. "Throwing out the case against Yang Chunlin would be a good place to start."

For more of Human Rights Watch's work on China and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, please visit: http://china.hrw.org/

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