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Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 08:46 GMT


World: Asia-Pacific

China's cyber trial closes

Internet usage is worring the Chinese authorities

A businessman accused of trying to overthrow the Chinese state using the Internet has been tried in Shanghai.

No verdict was announced after a reported 4-hour trial behind closed doors, but the Shanghai software company owner could face a life sentence if found guilty.


Duncan Hewitt reports from Beijing
Thirty-year-old Lin Hai - also known as Patrick Lin - was the first person in China charged with using the Internet for the purposes of political subversion.


[ image: Lin Hai: Charged with incitement to overthrow the state]
Lin Hai: Charged with incitement to overthrow the state
A defence lawyer told the Associated Press news agency that the court would probably take a week to rule.

"I'm afraid it doesn't look good for Lin Hai. I think he's going to be found guilty," the lawyer, Wang Wenjiang, said.

Lin Hai is accused of distributing 30,000 Chinese e-mail addresses to "VIP Reference" - a pro-democracy journal published by Chinese dissidents based in the United States.


The BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Beijing: China has been talking about opening up trials - but not this one
The address list was reportedly used to distribute banned news and comment material to the Chinese e-mail address owners.

His wife, Xu Hong, who was not allowed to attend his trial, has said that he had no interest in politics and routinely exchanged e-mail addresses with organisations around the world in order to expand his business.

She argued that e-mail addresses were public information and providing them could not be considered a crime. Xy Hong believes the Chinese Government wants to make an example of Lin Hai as a warning to other Internet users.

Violation of rights

Human rights organisations have demanded Mr Lin's release and called the decision to put him on trial a "blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression".

Human Rights in China, a New York-based group, called his detention arbitrary. They also called attention to the recent arrests of political activists who have tried to set up an opposition party.

Lin Hai's defence lawyer, Liu Jinping, admitted he was apprehensive about the outcome of the trial.

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

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

Fears over Internet use

The charges against Lin Hai are an indication of the Chinese Government's mounting fears about electronic information.

Attention is focusing on China's apparent inability to control movements of political information on the Internet.

In an explosion of internet use in China, over 1 million Chinese now use the technology. Although that is a small proportion of the 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 - 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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