Peking promises 'open' trial for Wei Jing

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Peking - China's definition of "open" and "public" will be put to the test tomorrow when the country's most famous pro-democracy dissident, Wei Jingsheng, goes on trial at Peking's No 1 Intermediate People's Court accused of trying to overthrow the government, writes Teresa Poole.

There was scepticism yesterday when the court's spokesman, Chen Xiong, said proceedings would be "open to the public" - and started taking applications from foreign journalists for a seat at the trial. By the end of the day, it was still unclear whether the government was about to break with precedent.

Political trials in China are routinely held behind closed doors, with only close family members of the accused allowed to attend, and hand-picked observers to fill the courtroom - conditions which China describes as "open". Mr Chen, after first saying that Mr Wei's trial would be open to Chinese people, later decided that locals also had to apply to attend.

Some indication of the quality of Chinese justice was given by Mr Chen's description of the current "investigative phase". He explained: "Before the open hearing, the court interrogates the defendant and then investigates whether the charges put forward by the procuratorate are true." It is not clear if Mr Wei has a lawyer.

The trial will open at 9am, and Mr Wei, in detention since April 1994 after meeting a US government human rights official, could be sentenced the same day.