BEIJING - One of China's most prominent dissidents, Liu Xiaobo, fought subversion charges at a trial on Wednesday that drew an outcry from local activists and foreign governments angered by Beijing's crackdown on political dissent.
Liu is accused of inciting subversion of state power by publishing essays on the Internet critical of the ruling Communist Party and helping organise the Charter 08 petition, demanding a democratic remake of the one-party state.
One of his defence lawyers, Ding Xikui, told Reuters that Liu defended himself as innocent and the court would give its verdict on Friday, Christmas Day.
China's Party-controlled prosecutors and courts rarely reject cases against dissidents, and Liu does not plan to appeal if found guilty, said his wife, Liu Xia, who was not allowed to attend the trial. He could face up to 15 years in jail.
With a government like this, a government without principles, there is nothing you can say, she said.
The prosecution of Liu, who turns 54 next Monday, has galvanised criticism of China's sweeping laws against political opponents, which the Party shows no signs of easing, despite robust economic growth and pressure from Western governments.
The Beijing First Intermediate People's Court that heard the case was heavily guarded by police and reporters were not allowed into the hearing. But in a small show of the forces that make Beijing jittery, rights activists and protesters, as well as diplomats from Western embassies, gathered on the street outside the court to condemn the trial.
Mr. Liu is a well-known activist who has peacefully worked for the establishment of democratic processes in China, said Gregory May, a diplomat with the United States embassy in Beijing said, reading out a statement.
We call on the government of China to release him immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views.
Local activists, as well as ragged petitioners hoping to publicise their own grievances against the government, yelled support for Liu and some later handed out yellow ribbons they said symbolised solidarity with him.
Some Chinese who are able to access the blocked Twitter service posted yellow ribbons next to their names in support.
Since the 1980s, Liu Xiaobo has stood for the public causes he believes in, so for us he's an important figure, said Teng Biao, a human rights activist, while being watched by police.
Police bundled some of the dozens of protesters into buses, but other activists were allowed to go freely.
The charge of inciting subversion is a broad accusation that covers criticisms of the Communist Party and its policies.
This (trial) has been timed for the biggest holiday time in the West, when the media may not be paying so much attention, said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, a New York-based group critical of Beijing.
This charge is clearly a politicized one, and it's been used against lawyers, writers and land activists.
Liu was detained late last year, as he and others were preparing to launch the Charter 08 petition, which collected thousands of signatures. China has not arrested any other signatories, suggesting it wants to make an example of Liu but avoid more contentious prosecutions.
A former literature professor from the northeast, Liu joined a hunger strike supporting student protesters days before the army crushed a pro-democracy movement centred on Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. He tried to avert a bloody standoff.
He was later jailed for 20 months and then spent three years in a labour re-education camp during the 1990s.
Liu's wife Liu Xia said she had been told by her brother, who was allowed into the courtroom, that her husband looked well.
His spirits were okay, but he looked very pale, she said, repeating what her brother had told her.
(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by David Fox)