BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday accused some diplomats of interfering in its internal affairs because they criticized the detention and trial of a prominent dissident who faces up to 15 years in jail for calling for political reform.
Coming despite months of international pressure on China to release Liu Xiaobo, the trial underscores the government’s determination to squelch dissent and other perceived threats to political stability in the one-party state.
Statements from embassies calling for the release of Liu were “a gross interference of China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a Thursday news conference.
“We urge the relevant countries to respect China’s sovereignty and stop doing anything that interferes in China’s internal affairs,” Jiang said.
Accused of subversion, Liu had a two-hour hearing Wednesday. A dozen diplomats, including from the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia and Canada, stood outside the Beijing courthouse in freezing weather after they were barred from entering.
“We call on the government of China to release him immediately,” Gregory May, first secretary with the U.S. Embassy, said outside the courthouse. The European Union made a similar appeal.
Liu was detained a year ago just before the release of a written appeal calling for more civil rights in China that he co-authored known as Charter 08. He faces up to 15 years in jail with a verdict due Friday.
Liu, 53, a literary critic and former professor, spent 20 months in jail for joining the 1989 student-led protests in Tiananmen Square that were crushed in a military crackdown.
Charter 08 demands a new constitution guaranteeing human rights, the open election of public officials, and freedom of religion and expression. Some 10,000 people have signed it in the past year, though a news blackout and Internet censorship have left most Chinese unaware that it exists.
Liu has been the only person arrested over the charter, but rights groups said several signers have been harassed or fired from their jobs, and warned not to attend the trial or write about it online.
Liu is charged with inciting to subvert state power, a vaguely worded charge that is routinely used to jail dissidents.
Liu’s wife said she was not allowed to leave her home to attend the trial.
Washington sharply criticized the dissident’s detention.
“As far as we can tell, this man’s crime was simply signing a piece of paper that aspires to a more open and participatory form of government. That is not a crime,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “These kind of actions — clearly a political trial that will likely lead to a political conviction — are uncharacteristic of a great country.”