Chinese authorities in Beijing on Friday began the trial against Wang Lihong, one of the dozens of human rights activists the government detained earlier this year as part of a crackdown on dissidents in the country. Wang is charged with one count of creating a disturbance [AFP report] for allegedly utilizing the Internet to attempt organizing anti-government demonstrations during the recent period of similar unrest in Middle Eastern and African countries. Her supporters contend that the offense of "creating a disturbance" is purposefully ambiguous, and that it is frequently levied against vocal government opponents. Wang was arrested in April, shortly before the anniversary of the peaceful Tiananmen Square [BBC backgrounder] protests of June 1989. In the months prior to the occasion, the government arrested at least 48 individuals in what rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) [advocacy website] described [press release] as the "most severe repression of dissent and activism since the post-Tiananmen crackdown." A contingent of several international diplomats, including representatives from the United States and European Union, sought to attend the proceedings but were denied entry. If convicted, Wang faces a maximum of five years incarceration.
China's human rights record has been widely criticized. The US Department of State [official website] in June urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to release protesters arrested for their Tiananmen Square involvement and account for those missing or killed during the suppression. The State Department also urged China to protect universal human rights afforded to peaceful dissenters, and to release those that had been detained or placed under house arrest in the months prior. In May, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] called for the immediate release of Chinese rights activist and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Liu, awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, is currently serving an 11-year prison term [JURIST reports] after being convicted on charges of subversion in a trial that lasted only two hours and was closed to foreign diplomats. China has also been criticized for jailing human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng [advocacy website; JURIST news archive]. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the Chinese government [JURIST report] in March to free Gao, claiming his detention violates international law.