Beijing: Leading Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo went on trial on subversion charges Wednesday, in a case criticised by the United States, the European Union and rights groups as politically motivated.
The 53-year-old Liu, a writer who was previously jailed over the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, has been charged with "inciting subversion of state power" after co-authoring a bold call for political reform. Profile: Liu Xiaobo
Western diplomats were denied access to the half-day trial in a Beijing court after Washington and Brussels last week called for Liu`s release, and key dissidents were warned not to attend the proceedings. Related article: US calls for release of Liu Xiaobo
The Beijing court is expected to deliver its verdict at 9:00 am (0100 GMT) on Friday, Christmas Day, one of the dissident`s lawyers, Ding Xikui, said the news agency.
If convicted, Liu -- who has already been detained for a year -- faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Dozens of police officers ringed the courthouse and sealed off the pavements, as a handful of diplomats and Liu supporters gathered outside.
The dissident`s wife, Liu Xia, was prevented from attending the trial by police stationed outside her home, she said to a news agency by telephone.
She said, quoting her brother who was in the courtroom, that Liu had thanked her for her support before the court, as she burst into tears.
Ding said: "His health was good. Of course he was able to testify, the court has rules and he is allowed to testify. I don`t want to get into what he said. Let`s just say that he pleaded innocent."
The few supporters of Liu at the courthouse wore yellow ribbons as a show of support. They attached ribbons to railings, but those were soon removed by police.
"Long live democracy, long live Liu Xiaobo!" shouted 49-year-old Beijing resident Song Zaimin, under the watchful eye of police outside the court.
"I don`t know him and I don`t want to know him but I just support his heroic behaviour. We must stand up for our future."
Liu, a university professor before his involvement in the Tiananmen demonstrations, co-authored Charter 08, which calls for human rights protection and the reform of China`s one-party communist system. Facts: "Charter 08"
The petition, which has been widely circulated online, has been signed by more than 10,000 people, including other key dissidents and intellectuals, according to China Human Rights Defenders, a network of activists.
It specifically calls for the abolition of subversion in China`s criminal code -- the very crime with which Liu has been charged.
"I have the right to express my opinions about society and politics," prominent human rights lawyer Teng Biao, a Charter 08 signatory, told reporters at the courthouse.
"If Liu Xiaobo is sentenced, then we should also assume the same crime, and we should bear the same legal responsibility."
Diplomats from more than a dozen countries including the United States, Britain, Canada, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand stood outside the courthouse for the duration of the 2.5-hour trial, awaiting news.
The United States and the European Union appealed for Liu`s unconditional release and an end to the harassment and detention of political dissidents -- calls which Beijing dismissed as "unacceptable".
US embassy official Gregory May reiterated Washington`s stance at the courthouse.
"We call on the government of China to release him immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views," May said, noting the case had been raised "at high levels".
Liu`s trial comes amid fears that officials are attempting to rush the case through the court during the Western holiday season in a bid to attract less global attention.
In 2007, rights activist Hu Jia was arrested on December 27 and charged with subversion. The year before, prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was sentenced to three years in prison for subversion just before Christmas.
The subversion charge -- which Liu`s lawyer Shang Baojun says also relates to articles posted on the Internet -- is routinely brought against those who voice opposition to China`s ruling Communist Party.
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abusing such charges to silence critics.
"The only purpose of this trial is to dress up naked political repression in the trappings of legal proceedings," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
"Liu`s crimes are non-existent, yet his fate has been pre-determined. This is a travesty of justice."