(New York) - The Chinese government has repeatedly violated the rights of prominent human rights activist Hu Jia and his trial cannot meet minimum standards of fairness, Human Rights Watch said today. The trial is due to open on the morning of March 18 in Beijing. Hu has been indicted for “incitement to subvert state power,” a crime inconsistent with freedom of expression as protected under international law, because it allows criticism of the political system to be penalized.

Hu faces up to five years in prison. His lawyers have indicated that he intended to plead not guilty and that his wife, Zeng Jinyan, who has been confined at their home since his arrest, will not be allowed to attend the hearing.

“Hu Jia’s case has been marked by grave rights violations from the outset,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “His arrest was political, the charges are political, and his trial is political.”

Hu was taken from his home by the police on December 27, 2007, shortly after he gave live audio testimony to the European Parliament. In that testimony, he expressed his desire for 2008 to be “the year of human rights in China.” In September 2007, he and lawyer Teng Biao published an open letter, titled “The Real China and the Olympics,” asking for international public attention to human rights concerns in China in the context of the Games.

“Hu Jia’s only ‘crime’ has been to warn of the tightening chokehold on dissent ahead of the Games,” said Richardson.

Human Rights Watch has called for the Chinese government to drop the charges of subversion against Hu, and urged to the International Olympic Committee and the governments whose countries are sending athletes to the Games to speak publicly and press the Chinese government to release him. Human Rights Watch has also documented systematic repression by the Chinese authorities against activists and dissidents in recent months.