Chinese housing activist and lawyer, Ni Yulan, and her husband, Dong Jiqin, went on trial Thursday on charges of fraud and "inciting a disturbance" in Beijing. Lying on a stretcher and relying on an oxygen machine [AP report], Ni pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud for falsifying facts to steal property and inciting a disturbance when they were detained by police in April. Although a court spokesperson indicated the trial was open to the public, foreign journalists and diplomats were barred from the proceedings [International Business Times report]. Ni, a trained lawyer, and her husband have assisted victims of government land seizures [Guardian report] including those displaced by the Beijing Olympics project. Ni's lawyer, Cheng Hai, indicated the hearing was interrupted for unclear reasons [Telegraph report] after only four hours and without producing a verdict as expected. It is unclear when a verdict will be announced.
Ni Yulan is the third high-profile dissident to be put on trial in recent weeks as part of a larger crackdown timed around Christmas in order to avoid international scrutiny [Guardian report]. Earlier this week, a Chinese court sentenced political activist Chen Xi [JURIST report] to 10 years in prison for inciting subversion.The charges against Chen, 57, stemmed from more than 30 political essays that he had published online. Last week, a Chinese court sentenced human rights advocate Chen Wei [JURIST report], who is unrelated to Chen Xi, to nine years in prison. Chen Wei, 42, was sentenced after a two-hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which he published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. Chen was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun [website, in Chinese] reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February.