China charges a dissident for writing freedom poem

 Published: 1/18/2012 11:01:05 AM GMT
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Mr Zhu, a 58-year-old writer, is to stand trial for subversion after he wrote and published a poem entitled "It's Time" on the internet.

His poem urged people to gather in support of freedom.

The latest indictment comes amid a severe crackdown on dissidents.

Several activists have been either charged or imprisoned for unusually harsh prison sentences as the ruling Communist Party prepares for its secretive transition of power to the next generation of leaders in the autumn.

Mr Zhu was detained last March and formally arrested a month later as China began a wide-ranging clampdown on dissent, launched in response to online calls for copycat Arab spring protests.

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"It's time, Chinese people! / The square belongs to everyone / the feet are yours / it's time to use your feet and take to the square to make a choice," reads one verse of Mr Zhu's poem.

His lawyer, Li Dunyong, was quick to deny the work was inspired by the Arab Spring.

Mr Li said he received Mr Zhu's indictment from a court in the eastern city of Huangzhou on Monday but a date has not been set for his client's trial.

"He's in good condition," Mr Li told journalists.

Chinese officials have not commented on his charge.

A veteran activist, Mr Zhu was involved in the 1979 Democracy Wall movement which called for faster reforms after the country began to emerge from two dark decades following Chairman Mao's controversial leadership.

His activism has landed him in jail twice before, in 1999 for seven years and in 2007 for two years.

Nervous officials are taking no chances ahead of the leadership change, and detentions and questioning of activists and human rights lawyers is expected to continue.

Beijing's dragnet for dissidents has so far snared the prominent writer and political activist, Chen Wei, who was sentenced to nine years just before Christmas in prison for inciting subversion.

Days later, another veteran dissident, Chen Xi, received a 10-year sentence on the same charge. Lesser known activist are also being rounded up and harassed.

Earlier, US Ambassador Gary Locke claimed China's human rights situation is getting worse – an allegation flatly denied by the Beijing government.

"China's strides and achievements have been well known to all. Over 80 per cent of the Chinese people are satisfied with the development of China," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said earlier this week.

"With such strong public support you cannot say that China is backtracking in terms of human rights," he added.

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