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2 Chinese Labor Leaders Charged with Subversion - 2003-01-08

A labor rights group says China has charged two labor leaders with subversion. The two men helped organize demonstrations that attracted tens of thousands of laid-off workers in northeastern China last year. The China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong says a court in Liaoyang city, northeastern China, has accepted the charges of subversion against Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang. The labor-monitoring group says the trial is expected to start within weeks, and both men might face the death penalty.

Mr. Yao and Mr. Xiao were arrested in March on lesser charges of illegal parade and assembly, and have been jailed since then. They helped organize protests in Liaoyang by tens of thousands of laid-off workers and their sympathizers, accusing managers and local officials of robbing them of wages and benefits.

Han Dongfang, the director of China Labor Bulletin, says he is appalled by the actions of the Liaoyang authorities. Mr. Han says the government has accused the labor organizers of inciting violence among protesters, but that local union officials say all the worker demonstrations were peaceful. He says Mr. Yao and other workers were merely exercising their right to collective bargaining. Mr. Han adds that Mr. Yao's health is suffering, and his left hand has been incapacitated by tremors.

Two other protest leaders were released in December, but Mr. Han says that one of them was recently arrested again.

China bans independent labor unions, and sees worker protests as one of the greatest threats to the government's power. Millions of workers in China's industrial northeast have lost their jobs because of the closure of inefficient state enterprises, and labor disputes are rising.

The demonstrations in Liaoyang last spring spread to other cities in the northeastern rustbelt, and were among the largest in more than 50 years of Communist rule.