BEIJING (AP) — The trial lasted four hours, and the verdict was harsh: 11 years in prison for Wang Dan, one of the last active leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement.
With Wednesday’s swift judgment, China’s Communist Party leaders signaled their resolve to silence critics. But they also revealed worries about anti-government sentiment and the potent memories of the military assault that crushed the 1989 demonstrations.
“The student movement was such a big thing that nobody can forget it,” said a man standing outside the courthouse where Wang was tried. “Just because we don’t talk about it openly doesn’t mean we don’t care,” said the man, who refused to be identified.
For many, Wang symbolized that movement. As a Beijing University student, he led marches and called for a student union free of government control. After the crackdown, the government put him atop its most-wanted list, flashing his picture on TV nationwide.
Wang served 3 years in prison only to emerge unrepentant. Over 27 months — before he was taken away by police in May 1995 — he criticized the party in essays published abroad, met with other activists and petitioned the government for democracy.
His writings and meetings were used as evidence to convict him Wednesday of plotting to subvert the government.
Wang tried “to mold public opinion to subvert the government. … He instigated people by saying that it is time to turn our words into actions,'” the state-run Xinhua News Agency said in announcing the verdict.
The trial in Beijing Intermediate People’s Court took place amid the usual secrecy and unusually heavy police presence. No foreign reporters or observers were allowed to attend, despite requests by the United States and other governments.
Police cordoned off the courthouse in western Beijing, stringing up white rope to keep foreign reporters and curious locals away. Dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police patrolled the area.
Police shooed reporters away from Wang’s family home.
“His actions were not criminal,” his mother, Wang Lingyun, said in a telephone interview. “This is so inconceivable.”
A museum researcher, Wang defended her son in court as one of the two attorneys he was allowed. She will do so again in his appeal, which the family will file within 10 days.
Wang’s father and sister also attended the trial, along with about 20 spectators, many of them from China’s tightly controlled state-run media, Wang Lingyun said.
Still, Xinhua quoted presiding Judge Cai Yue as saying the trial had been “open, fair and legitimate.”
The Xinhua dispatches were the only official comment on the case and they were issued only in English, not Chinese. China Central Television made no mention of the case.
According to the Xinhua accounts, Wang slandered the government, tried to form a mutual aid group to help dissidents in financial straits and took money from “overseas hostile forces.”
One article deemed particularly subversive said “today’s China is like being on the top of a volcano.”
Human rights groups and foreign governments condemned the trial Wednesday.
Clinton administration spokesman Mike McCurry said Wednesday that the Wang case speaks to China’s lack of improvement in the area of human rights.
While the United States appealed to China on Tuesday to cancel the trial, it is seeking better relations with Beijing and is not expected to cancel a Nov. 19 visit by Secretary of State Warren Christopher.