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US Resident Faces Trial in Beijing on Spying Charges - 2003-08-01

Western politicians and diplomats will be watching closely next week when a U.S. resident goes on trial in Beijing on charges of spying. Chinese democracy activist Yang Jianli was arrested last April while traveling in China with a false passport.

Yang Jianli has been in prison in China for more than a year without access to a lawyer. He was caught boarding a plane in southern China while carrying a false passport, and was charged with spying for Taiwan.

Dr. Yang is the founder of a pro-democracy group in Boston, the Foundation for China in the 21st Century. He was a leading participant in the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. After fleeing to the United States, he was barred from returning to his homeland.

According to his wife, Christina Fu, Dr. Yang used a friend's passport to enter China last year in an effort to document labor unrest in the northeastern part of the country.

However, Ms. Fu denies the Chinese government's charge that her husband was working as a spy for Taiwan. If convicted on that charge, Dr. Yang could face a death sentence.

U.S. government officials and human rights activists are especially concerned that Dr. Yang's trial is to be held behind closed doors. Chinese officials say they are restricting access to the trial because it will contain "state secrets".

Sharon Hom, Executive Director of the New York based advocacy group Human Rights in China, speculates that the government has already decided on the outcome of the trial.

"The routine kind of cooperation between the police, the prosecution and the judges, you know, really undermines the possibility that you would have an independent decision-maker at the trial of first sentence, which is what this is going to be," Ms. Hom said.

Yang Jianli's case has not gone unnoticed outside of China. The U.S. Senate has called for Dr. Yang's immediate release. The U.S. House of Representatives and individual members of the European Parliament have all voiced concern about the outcome of the trial. U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has mentioned Dr. Yang in talks with Chinese diplomats.

But Sharon Hom cautions that focusing on a few high-profile cases can work to the detriment of others who may be facing unfair trials in China.

"The real test of a criminal justice system I think is, you know, regular, open, fair process for everyone," Ms. Hom said. "Not just the ones in which you have to call in the U.S. government and other foreign governments and have to mount this kind, it should be something that every single person accused of a crime should be afforded."

Dr. Yang is not the first American resident to face charges of espionage. In February, U.S.-based democracy activist Wang Bingzhi was jailed on terrorism charges in the southern city of Shenzhen.