Trial of Chinese online dissident ends without ruling

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A state secrets trial of a Chinese dissident who criticized the government's response to a massive earthquake last year ended Wednesday after three hours with no immediate ruling, his wife and lawyer said.

About 50 supporters and relatives of Huang Qi tried to attend his trial in Chengdu in southwestern Sichuan but were barred from entering the court by police, Zeng Li, Huang's wife, said in a phone interview. She said her husband's health has been deteriorating in recent months while in detention.

Huang, 45, long one of China's most outspoken activists, ran a human rights Web site and wrote about parents who had lost their children when badly built schools collapsed in the May 2008 quake in Sichuan that left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing.

The activist is charged with illegally possessing state secrets, an ill-defined charge often used by Communist leaders to clamp down on dissent and imprison activists.

Huang's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said his client pleaded not guilty. The court, however, would not allow the defense to call witnesses, saying they had already testified on the case in statements made to police, he said.

A verdict will be announced at an unspecified later time, Mo added. Huang faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison if convicted.

Zeng said she hoped the court would acquit Huang, who has been detained for a year and four months, but was not optimistic.

"The only reason that Huang Qi is being tried is because he helped the parents of children killed in the earthquake," said Zeng, who spent the day waiting outside the court with the couple's 18-year-old son and their friends.

Zeng said the prison's medical center found two tumors in Huang's abdomen but has not treated him. He also later found two lumps in his left breast, but repeated requests for his release on medical parole have received no response, she said.

School collapses and the resulting deaths of children became one of the most charged issues in the aftermath of the earthquake and one that local Communist leaders seemed eager to suppress. Another activist, Tan Zuoren, is to be tried next Wednesday for alleged subversion after he tried to investigate the school collapses and the number of children killed.

Earlier this decade, Huang served a five-year prison sentence on subversion charges linked to politically sensitive articles posted on his Web site. Since his release in 2005, he has supported a wide range of causes from aiding families of those killed in the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to publicizing the complaints of farmers involved in land disputes with authorities.