China activist Ni Yulan and her husband go on trial

Ni Yulan and Dong Jiqin (file photo)
Image caption Ni Yulan (with husband Dong Jiqin in file photo) says previous police mistreatment has left her disabled

Two Chinese rights activists have gone on trial in Beijing, accused of fraud and libel for their work providing legal help to people whose homes have been seized by the government.

Ni Yulan and her husband, Dong Jiqin, have pleaded not guilty.

Mrs Ni, who is in poor health, had to use a respirator during the hearing, according to her lawyer.

Their supporters say the trial is a sign of China's growing intolerance of dissent.

Ni Yulan's fight against land grabs began in 2002 after her home in central Beijing was requisitioned and later demolished.

She has been banned from working as a lawyer and already imprisoned twice. She and her husband have continued to advise others whose land has been seized.

Scores detained

Fifty-one-year-old Mrs Ni uses a wheelchair - a consequence, she and her supporters say, of mistreatment by police.

The couple were detained earlier this year as authorities rounded up scores of activists to deter a popular uprising like those taking place in the Arab world.

Their daughter, Dong Xuan, said seeing her mother lying on a bed in court "made her heart ache".

The trial had been "a very abnormal legal process" and she believed that there was "a very big chance she will be found guilty", said Ms Dong, according to AFP.

The trial was closed to the press and foreign diplomats. The couple's lawyer Cheng Hai said outside the court that no verdict had been reached, and it was unclear when one would be announced.

This week two other Chinese dissidents, Chen Xi and Chen Wei, were both sentenced for subversion, receiving ten-year and nine-year sentences respectively.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas, who is in Beijing, says that the Chinese Communist Party is due to undergo a change in its senior leaders next year and is thought to be extremely sensitive about any challenges to its rule.

As development has accelerated, land values have gone up in China - and many local governments have been seizing property, our correspondent says.

He says there are numerous disputes between Communist officials and ordinary people, who complain that compensation is low and profits from the land often go to Party members or corrupt businessmen.

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