16 December 2009

Liu Xiaobo Set for a Christmas Trial?

The other day, someone posted on Twitter that Liu Xiaobo had been informed that his trial for "inciting subversion" would open "next week." I've been trying to find out more information, but so far I've only seen other hints that a trial may be imminent, nothing definite.

According to Article 119(4) of the Supreme People's Court "Interpretation on Several Questions Concerning Implementation of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC," the Beijing Number One Intermediate People's Court is required to notify a defendant and his or her defense attorney five days before the trial is set to open and get information about defense witnesses and evidence. If this was the basis for the notification given to Liu Xiaobo, it would suggest that the trial could open as early as Monday, 21 December.

If the case is to be tried in open court, the court is supposed to make a public announcement three days prior, which, if the trial were set for Monday, would mean today. (Anyone in Beijing want to venture over to the courthouse and have a look at the announcement board?)

Of course, it's not clear to me at this point whether Liu's case will be tried in open court or whether authorities will invoke the need to protect state secrets in an effort to keep everyone out of the courtroom. (Even if the trial is nominally open, however, good luck finding a seat in the courtroom that's not already occupied by some off-duty law-enforcement officer or government official.)

Nearly every year in my recent memory, some arrest, conviction, or other incident that would otherwise receive international scrutiny gets carried out during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, when foreigners' attentions are turned elsewhere. (Hu Jia's arrest in December 2007 is a good example.) Even if Liu's trial opens next week, there's no guarantee that he'll be sentenced by Christmas, though the process appears now to be moving with an alacrity rarely seen in cases against people charged with political crimes in China.

Watch this space . . .

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