China formally charges dissident with subversion

( dpa ) - China has formally charged a well-known dissident with subversion, despite appeals from the European Union and the United States for his release, his lawyer and rights groups said on Friday.

The family of Hu Jia was told that prosecutors had decided to charge him with "inciting subversion of state power," lawyer Li Jinsong told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Hu's parents were allowed to visit him on Thursday and found him in good health, Li said.

"Yesterday, they let Hu's parents visit him," he said. "His spirit and health are both quite good ... so we are relieved about that."

State prosecutors notified Hu's family in writing on Wednesday, just two days before the statutory limit for detention without charge, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.

The charge means Hu Jia faces a trial, which is almost certain to be closed, and potentially a long prison sentence.

"According to law, after the approval (of the formal charge) the trial should be held within two months," Li said.

The US-based Dui Hua Foundation, which lobbies for the release or better treatment of detained Chinese rights activists case by case, said the charging of Hu appeared to be linked to a crackdown on dissent before the Beijing Olympics in August.

Hu spoke via the internet to a European Parliament committee in November, when he criticized the human rights record of the Chinese government and the organizers of the games.

"Whether or not these criticisms triggered his arrest, it is clear that the action taken against Hu Jia cannot escape being connected to the Olympics," the Dui Hua Foundation said.

"From the perspective of the authorities, the opportunity to take this high-profile rights activist out of action in the final months before the Olympics may have been too good to pass up," it said in a statement posted on its website,

Reporters Without Borders said the charge was "an insult to the diplomatic efforts of many countries who have expressed their views following the arrest of this free-expression activist".

Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, and 2-month-old daughter remain under house arrest at their apartment in a Beijing suburb.

Li said he had no recent contact with Zeng.

Hu, 34, was formally arrested on December 27 after spending most of the previous two years under house arrest or other forms of detention.

He is best known for his advocacy for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in China, winning several international awards.

Police have kept Li and Hu's other lawyers under close surveillance and prevented them from meeting Hu since his arrest.

"Hu's case has been formally classified as a 'state secret', meaning that he has no right to meet with his defence attorney until after the case has been handed over to the procuratorate for prosecution, which ... could happen as late as seven months from now," Dui Hua said.

China Human Rights Defenders also condemned the charge, saying that Hu was "criminally detained solely because of his peaceful activities in promoting human rights".

"We call for the International Olympics Committee to make enquiries into China's failure to keep its pledge to improve human rights, as illustrated by Hu's arrest," the group said.

China Human Rights Defenders said there were "many other human rights violations committed in the name of the Olympics", such as forcible demolitions, arbitrary detention, and closer monitoring of the media.

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