A Chinese activist accused of subversion for signing a 2008 democracy manifesto has been languishing in detention without trial for a year and a half, his lawyer said Thursday.
Beijing attorney Liu Xiaoyuan said authorities in the southwestern city of Mianyang in Sichuan province have repeatedly delayed bringing Zuo Xiaohuan's case to trial since his detention in April last year.
The subversion charge stems from Zuo publicly signing Charter 08, a bold appeal for multiparty democracy, Liu said in a phone interview. Liu said authorities are using that as a pretext and are punishing Zuo for helping laid-off teachers write and submit government petitions.
A woman who answered the phone at the press office of the Mianyang public security bureau refused to take questions by phone or fax, while calls to the Mianyang Intermediate People's Court rang unanswered.
Chinese authorities routinely use the vaguely worded subversion charge to jail activists it considers troublemakers. Liu's appeal for his client comes as several activists in China have been investigated or detained on the same charge since February this year amid an expansive crackdown on dissent.
Liu said local prosecutors have twice sent Zuo's case back to police for further investigation, the maximum number of times they are allowed to do so, and must either prosecute Zuo or release him.
"If the authorities cannot start the trial because they have no evidence against Zuo Xiaohuan, they should immediately acquit and release him," Liu said. "He cannot be held in a detention center any longer."
Zuo, a 42-year-old former teacher, was also a volunteer for 64Tianwang.com, the Chinese human rights website run by veteran dissident Huang Qi, who is based in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.
Huang said Zuo's indictment was likely also related to his efforts to investigate the government's response to a massive earthquake in Sichuan that left almost 90,000 people dead or missing in 2008.
"Zuo Xiaohuan is a person who is welcomed by the common people, but that also means that he is a person hated by corrupt officials," Huang said. "We hope that the authorities can quickly release Zuo Xiaohuan and stop bringing false charges against him."
Inciting subversion is an offense stipulated in Chinese criminal law as punishable by up to five years in prison, or in serious cases, more than five years. Convicted of that crime, Charter 08 co-author Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years' jail in 2009.
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