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Thursday, December 3, 1998 Published at 21:19 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China cyber dissident on trial

Growing Internet usage is worring the Chinese authorities

By China Analyst Fuschia Dunlop

Thirty-year-old Lin Hai is thought to be the first person in China to be charged with internet subversion.

He could face a sentence of life imprisonment if he is found guilty.

Defence lawyer Liu Jinping: Under police pressure
His defence lawyer, Liu Jinping, said he hoped the trial would be conducted according to the law, but he admitted he was apprehensive about the outcome.

"Speaking of the current situation, I'm not very optimistic," he said.

"Because for example early this morning, I received a summons from the Anshan police, and they only released me at 1230 (local time) this morning."

According to Mr Liu, the police authorities from Shanghai and Anshan accused him of tampering with a legal document.

"I think they were pressurising me over my defence of Lin Hai, hoping that I would decide not to go to the trial."

The seriousness of the charges levelled against Lin Hai are an indication of the government's mounting fears about electronic information.

The last couple of years have seen an explosion of internet use in China.

Over a million Chinese people are registered users, and although that is a small proportion of the Chinese population, it represents a well-educated and influential elite.

Chinese dissidents at home and abroad have been quick to adopt the Internet as a means of distributing information the government would like to restrict.

Officials have tried to stem the flow of subversive ideas by setting up electronic barriers which some users have nicknamed the Great Firewall of China, but many see them as fighting a losing battle.

The trial of Lin Hai may be intended as a deterrent to other would-be cyber subversives, but it is unlikely to stem the inexorable opening up of China's unofficial media.

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