By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have indicted veteran dissident Zhu Yufu on subversion charges for writing a poem urging people to gather to defend their freedoms, his lawyer said on Tuesday, the latest activist to such charges in a tightening clampdown.
Zhu, 60, from the eastern city of Hangzhou, was arrested last April for "inciting subversion of state power," a charge often used against critics of the ruling Communist Party. No trial date has been set for Zhu, the lawyer, Li Dunyong, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"The main reason for the indictment was a poem he had written calling for people to gather. He had written the poem around the same time there was chaos (in the Middle East)," Li said. "He believes in the freedom of expression."
Li collected the indictment on Monday from a court in Hangzhou and met with Zhu, who he described as being "in a good condition."
Calls to the Hangzhou Intermediate Court were unanswered on Tuesday.
The authorities disclosed their decision to prosecute Zhu nearly a year after Zhu had written the poem, which was titled "It's time."
A verse reads: "It's time, Chinese people!/ The square belongs to everyone/the feet are yours/it's time to use your feet and take to the square to make a choice." Zhu's lawyer said the poem had been published on the internet.
Li said, however, that Zhu had nothing to do with the online calls for "Jasmine Revolution" rallies inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.
Police rounded up dozens of dissidents in response to the calls, which began on an overseas Chinese website that was blocked to most people in mainland China who do not have the means to overcome censorship walls. The attempted rallies were tiny and were quickly outnumbered by hundreds of police and security guards.
Li said he will defend Zhu on the basis of freedom of expression but believes Zhu's prospects for victory look bleak.
"You can't be optimistic about anything in China," he said. "In this country, he'll be punished harshly."
China's Communist Party is preparing for a leadership handover late this year, when its determination to fend off political challenges to its rule is likely to intensify.
Zhu's indictment comes after a court in Guiyang in southwest China sentenced another veteran dissident, Chen Xi, to 10 years in jail for subversion, one of the heaviest sentences given for political charges since Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo was jailed two years ago.
Another dissident -- Chen Wei from Sichuan province in southwest China -- was jailed in December for nine years on similar charges of "inciting subversion.
Like both dissidents, Zhu has been jailed before for his pro-democracy activism. He was jailed in 1999 for his involvement in the China Democratic Party, a group that challenged one-party rule. He was released in 2006, only to be jailed again in 2007 for two years, according to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Another prominent activist, artist Ai Weiwei, whose 81-day detention last year sparked an international outcry, said he was interrogated for five hours on Sunday for throwing stones and showing a rude gesture to surveillance cameras outside his home.
Police told Ai that he had to be questioned because he was suspected of "damaging public property," Ai said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
Ai said the stones did not hit the 10 surveillance cameras outside his house and he didn't think he would face charges.
"They said to me: 'This is a warning because you have to behave'," Ai said. "I said: 'I'll behave, I take your warning seriously. But I'm human, I have to show my attitude. It's just a gesture. You're so powerful, how can I destroy you?'"
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani)