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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Avers Right to Shut Trial

BEIJING -- Secrecy surrounds China's plans to put a prominent dissident on trial Wednesday on charges of trying to overthrow the government.

China has no obligation under an international human rights accord to allow foreign observers to watch the trial of dissident Wang Dan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang told reporters at a briefing held on Tuesday.

Wang, 27, was one of the leaders of the anti-government protests centered on Tiananmen Square in 1989. He served 3 1/2 years in prison, and then started to call again for political change and tolerance.

Wang now faces at least 10 years in prison for writing essays critical of the government that were published abroad, trying to help other dissidents in financial straits and accepting aid from overseas groups.

A guilty verdict is virtually certain in political trials in China.

Legal experts from the United States, Canada, Chile and France have requested permission to attend the trial to see whether it is fair, but permission has not been granted.

The U.S. Embassy also has applied to send an observer, but the government has not replied, an embassy spokesman said Tuesday.

China has never allowed foreigners to observe a dissident's trial. There is no indication any international experts, diplomats or foreign reporters will be allowed into the courtroom when Wang is tried.

The court has refused to provide any information about the case, and the state-run news media have not reported about the charges or upcoming trial.

Refusal to permit international observers to attend the trial would be a violation of the right to a fair trial specified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the group Human Rights Watch said in a statement. China has an obligation to uphold the declaration as a member of the United Nations.

Shen called the declaration "relatively broad and sweeping.''

"Every country handles cases according to its own national laws,'' he said, adding that anyone who wanted to attend would have to obtain permission from the justice department.

Robin Munro, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for Human Rights Watch-Asia, said the indictment against Wang was "absolutely disgraceful.'' The charges are based completely on quotes from his writing taken out of context and on harmless contacts which he had had with overseas dissidents, he said.

The trial shows there is no move to a rule of law in China, he said.

Human Rights Watch-Asia called for international protest if Wang is convicted. It said trade missions and ministerial visits to China should be postponed until China releases key political prisoners and makes other major human rights improvements.

It also urged members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to discuss human rights with President Jiang Zemin at the APEC summit in the Philippines in November.

The government has crushed the dissident movement in recent years. Most active dissidents have been tried and sentenced to prison or detained for up to three years in labor camps without trials.

In Hong Kong, about 100 demonstrators marched through the commercial Causeway Bay district on Tuesday night chanting, "Wang Dan is innocent. The government is shameless.'' They lit candles outside the Xinhua News Agency office, China's de facto embassy in Hong Kong, and they also posted a petition calling for Wang's release.

Wang has been held in detention since May 1995. He was not allowed to see any members of his family until this month, when his mother was allowed one visit, because she is one of two people who has been allowed to defend him.

Wang was charged and formally arrested Oct. 3, according to a copy of an indictment released by Human Rights Watch-Asia. Authorities told Wang's family Oct. 11 to hire a lawyer.

Human Rights Watch-Asia said legal experts who wanted to observe the trial included a former French justice minister, two former U.S. attorneys general, a former solicitor-general of Canada and law professors from the United States and Chile.