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China puts dissident from U.S. on trial after Obama leaves

November 20, 2009

November 19, 2009

BEIJING -- A student leader of China's 1989
pro-democracy movement who has long lived in the
United States went on trial in China on Thursday,
a day after U.S. President Barack Obama finished
a visit that raised human rights.

Zhou Yongjun faced fraud charges at the trial in
Shehong County in southwest Sichuan province, his
long-time girlfriend and a friend at the courthouse told Reuters.

Zhou was a leader of the Beijing Students'
Autonomous Union in the 1989 protests that ended
in a bloody army-led crackdown in the streets
around Beijing's Tiananmen Square. He later
obtained a green card from the United States,
giving him residential rights, but not full citizenship.

"I know from the lawyers that he's on trial
today, but the whole process has been kept
secret. This came out of the blue," Zhang Yuewei,
Zhou's girlfriend, said from Los Angeles where
she lives. She said Zhou's immediate family had also told her of the trial.

"Holding the trial at this time was to show the
U.S. President," Zhang said in a separate email.
"The Chinese government maybe believes that it
has the power and cash to go up against the
United States and international society."

A friend of Zhou's said she was refused entry to
the courthouse, which appeared to be crowded with officials.

"They don't want any publicity about this case,"
said the friend, who gave her surname as Lei but
asked that her full name not be reported.

Because Zhou is not a U.S. citizen, Washington
has scant formal power to intervene, and Chinese
authorities have no obligations to tell the United States of any developments.

In his public comments throughout his four-day
visit to China, Obama raised general hopes for
broader human rights in Communist Party-ruled
China, but avoided raising specific cases. It was
unclear, however, whether he raised such cases in
his closed-door meetings with China's leaders.

Zhou, 42, was handed to Chinese police by
authorities in Hong Kong, leading to his
detention for nearly a year, Zhang and Hong Kong
rights activists said last month.

Lacking a valid Chinese passport, Zhou traveled
to Hong Kong with the intention of visiting
relatives in China on a Malaysian national's passport in September last year.

He faces charges of financial fraud involving a
bank in Hong Kong, but Zhang and other supporters
say the charges were a pretext to punish Zhou for his years of rights activism.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

(Editing by Ken Wills)
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