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China: Dissident's Spy Trial Begins - 2003-08-04

A U.S.-based Chinese dissident went on trial Monday in Beijing for alleged spying. The case of scholar Yang Jianli is drawing concern from members of the U.S. Senate and from U.N. human rights officials. Yang Jianli went on trial at Beijing's Number Two Intermediate People's Court Monday. He was detained in April 2002 while traveling in northeast China while trying to observe labor unrest.

China accuses him of spying for Taiwan and entering the country illegally on a false passport. An espionage conviction could bring the death penalty, but his lawyer says that is not likely. Mr. Yang pled innocent to both charges during his three-hour trial that was closed to the press, public, his family and all but one of his lawyers. A verdict is expected in about six weeks.

The 40-year-old Mr. Yang holds doctorate degrees from two top U.S. universities and runs a foundation that tries to promote democracy in China. Back in the 1980's, he traveled to the United States and became a permanent resident, a step toward becoming an American citizen. He was blacklisted by China in 1989 for supporting pro-democracy demonstrations there.

After his arrest 15 months ago, Mr. Yang's wife brought his case to the attention of top Bush Administration officials, the U.S. Senate, U.N. human rights officials and the wider dissident community.

Human rights activist Frank Lu, who heads the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong, says the spy charges are absurd.

Mr. Lu says the closed trial is a discouraging sign that human rights are not improving in China.