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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports
"Officials say the trial involves state secrets"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 13:39 GMT
Chinese website creator goes on trial
Huang Qi and son
Huang, seen here with his son, was arrested last June
China has put a website creator on trial for the first time, in a test case condemned by international rights groups.

Huang Qi, 36, went on trial on Tuesday in the south-western city of Chengdu. He is accused of attempting to subvert state power by allowing articles about the 1989 pro-democracy protests to appear on his website.

He looked very weak and he had lost a lot of weight

Huang's wife Zeng Li

A court official said the trial was later adjourned because of Mr Huang's poor health, and it is expected to resume next week.

All outside observers were barred from the trial, which was condemned by international press watchdogs as a gross violation of internet freedom.

Western diplomats in Beijing said requests to monitor the trial had been rejected. The authorities said the ban had been imposed because the trial involved state secrets, according to one diplomat.

Jail 'beating'

Mr Huang's wife Zeng Li, quoted by the French news agency AFP, said her husband looked very weak when he was led to the courthouse. She said he had been beaten in jail, had lost a tooth and had a scar on his forehead from the blows.

Chinese teenagers
Foreign news sites have been blocked

Mr Huang was arrested last June, shortly after his website posted an essay calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the bloody suppression of the 1989 student protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

None of the articles were written by Mr Huang. They were posted by visitors to his site, which is now operated from outside China.

Previously people had been arrested for posting material deemed subversive by the Chinese authorities or for passing lists of e-mail addresses to overseas human rights groups.

Mr Huang set up the website to publicise information about missing people.

It soon attracted postings about alleged human rights abuses, corruption and political issues such as the Xinjiang independence movement and the banned Falun Gong movement.

''I think my husband is innocent,'' Zeng Li said. ''His only crime is that he was not a good manager and failed to delete the articles.''

Battle for net control

Mr Huang was arrested on 3 June last year, on the eve of the anniversary of the 1989 army killings of pro-democracy protesters.

Laptop advert
The number of internet users is growing rapidly
Ten days before the 4 June anniversary the website carried several dozen items about the 1989 crackdown, including a call by a woman for the trial of the Li Peng, the senior Communist Party official widely seen as being responsible for the violence.

Mr Huang's trial has drawn international attention because it highlights the struggle by the Chinese authorities to promote the commercial potential of the internet while controlling political content.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the trial was "a significant test of the limits of free expression''.

The press watchdog Reporters Without Borders sent a letter to Sichuan Governor Zhang Zhongwei calling for Mr Huang's acquittal and immediate release.

And Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, was quoted as saying the trial was "a terrible reminder of the lengths to which the Chinese Government will go to control information".

Internet boom

Under the new law passed in December by the National People's Congress (NPC), subversive activities over the internet are a crime.

Internet use has boomed in China - the number of users doubled in the first eight months of 2000 to 16.9 million.

Official task forces have shut down some websites deemed "subversive" and have previously tried to block access to foreign websites deemed undesirable - including the BBC, Yahoo and CNN.

Websites publishing news currently have to seek approval from a state information office.

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See also:

15 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
China charges web entrepreneur
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests internet editor
29 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
China moves to control internet
02 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
China cracks down on internet cafes
20 Jan 99 | Asia-Pacific
Prison for China Net dissident
29 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Can governments control the internet?
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