Reuters International

By Joseph Campbell

BEIJING (Reuters) - A well-known Chinese civil rights lawyer went on trial for fraud on Friday, an attorney with knowledge of the case said, the latest trial in a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent.

Xia Lin was detained by Beijing police in November 2014 and later charged with fraud, said Mo Shaoping, a colleague of Xia's lawyer who is familiar with the case. Xia's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Xia had worked with Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's best-known human rights lawyers, who was handed a three-year suspended sentence last year for writing Internet posts the government said incited ethnic hatred.

Xia had represented artist and dissident Ai Weiwei's company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development.

Security was tight outside of Beijing Number 2 People's Intermediate Court and journalists were barred entry. Several supporters and family members could be seen waiting outside.

Calls to the court went unanswered.

William Nee, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said Xia was defending human rights activist Guo Yushan before he was detained in 2014. 

"You know, he was trying to defend these people, and then he gets this accusation of fraud, illegal business activities," Nee said. "Most people think that's merely a pretence to silence him."

The trial could be a bellwether for how judicial authorities treat other prominent figures ensnared in the leadership's broad crackdown on rights lawyers, Nee added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Xia's case was outside of the Foreign Ministry's remit and she was unaware of the specific details.

"China is a country ruled by law," Hua said. "We guarantee everyone's legal rights according to law and handle their legal violations according to law."

The last three years under President Xi Jinping's administration have been marked by a sweeping crackdown on dissidents and activists.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Writing By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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