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Prominent Chinese Dissident Goes On Trial On Subversion Charges

Police tape cordons of the courthouse ahead of dissident Liu Xiaobo's trial on December 23.
Liu Xiaobo, one of China's most prominent dissidents and a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests, has gone on trial in Beijing on charges of "inciting subversion of state power."

The 53-year-old writer and former university professor, who has been in jail since 2008, could face a 15 years in prison if found guilty.

Today's trial lasted only 2 1/2 hours. A verdict in the case is expected sometime this week.

Liu has spent the past several years in and out of prison and house arrest for his role in the 1989 democracy protests. He was arrested again last year after co-authoring Charter '08, a petition calling for the reform of China's one-party communist system and the protection of human rights.

Charter '08 was published on December 10 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was initially signed by some 300 people.

Its supporters say the petition has now been signed by over 10,000 people.

Liu's trial has been widely criticized by Western countries and human rights groups as politically motivated.

The United States and the European Union have called for the dissident's immediate release. Chinese authorities, however, have flatly dismissed the criticism as "unacceptable," calling it foreign interference in Beijing's internal affairs.

Western diplomats as well as Liu's wife were denied access to the courtroom to witness the trial today.

Diplomats from several Western countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada, and Sweden gathered outside the courthouse awaiting news, after police officers told them there were no seats available for them inside.

U.S. Embassy official Gregory May read out a statement outside the court, reiterating Washington's stance.

"The U.S. government is very concerned that Beijing's First Intermediate People's Court has decided to move forward with the trial of Liu Xiaobo," May said.

"Mr. Liu is a well-known activist who has peacefully worked for the establishment of democratic processes in China. According to our publicly available evidence, the basis for his prosecution was a signature and support for Charter '08, which calls for respect for universal human rights and democratic reform."

Holiday Crackdown

Despite a heavy police presence, some of Liu's supporters gathered outside the court, wearing yellow ribbons and chanting slogans such as "We want freedom of speech!" "Our hero is innocent!" and "We support Xiaobo!"

Rights groups say Chinese authorities routinely use the vaguely worded subversion charge against dissidents and critics of the government.

And rights groups say it is not the first time that Chinese authorities have rushed a dissident's trials through court during the Christmas holiday season, in an apparent bid to attract less Western attention.

Prominent right activists Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia were arrested on subversion charges in China during the Christmas holidays in 2006 and 2007.

Dissidents put on trial in China are almost always found guilty, and Liu's wife has also said that she had "no hope whatsoever" for the outcome of her husband's trial.

Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said that "the only purpose of this trial is to dress up naked political repression in the trappings of legal proceedings."

"Liu's crimes are nonexistent, yet his fate has been predetermined," Richardson said in a statement.

compiled from agency reports