What's amazing is not the Chinese action but the fact that there are still people willing to stand up for basic freedoms in China. Dissidents face not only the formidable arm of the Chinese legal system, but also public indifference as well. "The Chinese public largely shares the government's fundamental belief that security and stability are more important than liberties," says Dowell. "The fear is that social instability will undercut economic progress." Trials in China are sounding boards. "Arrested persons are assumed to be guilty," says Dowell. "And the trial is merely a period to see if anyone raises objections." Some 200 protesters did show up to protest Wang's trial -- but that's in a population of one billion.
Wang Youcai and Qin Yongmin, two of China's most prominent dissidents, went on trial Thursday in separate cities for trying to set up an opposition group to Communist party rule. The men mounted their own defense -- after authorities scared away potential lawyers -- on charges that could put them behind bars for life. China is sending out yet again "one of its periodical signals that it will not tolerate opposition beyond a certain point," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell.