BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese police have charged prominent rights activist Hu Jia with incitement to subvert state power and could put him on trial in May in the run-up to the Olympics, his lawyers said on Friday.
The detention of Hu, 34, indicates that China is determined to defy world opinion and stamp out dissent ahead of the Games, according to observers.
"We were informed that Hu Jia has been formally charged," said Li Fangping, one of Hu's lawyers. "The case is still under police investigation but will be handed over to prosecutors by next month or early April. It could go to court a month later, in May."
The charge of incitement to subvert state power is often used to detain activists for years after secret trials and can lead to lengthy jail terms.
Hu's lawyers have not been allowed to see him since his December 27 arrest and he has been denied bail. Police said the case involved "state secrets", which allows them to deny access to a suspect.
Last week police rejected a bail plea, saying the AIDS activist and civil rights campaigner was a danger to society.
Hu's wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan has been under house arrest at the couple's Beijing home with their infant child since his arrest following a police raid.
Li said lawyers were trying to arrange to visit her before the Lunar New Year on February 7. But he was not optimistic. The last time he tried, police placed Li himself under house arrest, he said.
Hu, one of China's most active human rights campaigners, began working as an AIDS volunteer in the 1990s before starting to document rights abuses by the government.
Activists and human rights groups have said his detention was part of a crackdown by Beijing on its critics ahead of the Olympics, violating promises it made to win its bid to host the Games. The European Union and the United States have demanded his release.
Sun Wenguang, a retired Shandong University professor, said China's rulers wanted to stamp out all dissent when the world's spotlight was shining on Beijing in August.
"They want to create a reign of terror before then to silence all opposition," said Sun, an outspoken critic of the rights record of China's communist authorities.
"This is not good for the Beijing Olympics. Hu Jia is representative of rights activists and he has done nothing but good for many people."
News of his indictment coincided with a report from New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said China had broken its promise to improve human rights ahead of the Games.
"Despite China's official assurances that hosting the 2008 Olympic Games will help to strengthen the development of human rights in the country, the Chinese government continues to deny or restrict its citizens' fundamental rights," the group said in a statement along with its World Report for 2008.
Many intellectuals and activists have been placed under house arrest or had other restrictions imposed on them in recent weeks, the China Human Rights Defenders said in a report in January.
The group, a network of domestic and foreign activists, said the crackdown was expected to intensify as the Games approached.
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