BEIJING – An exiled former leader of the 1989 student pro-democracy movement went on trial on financial fraud charges Thursday in southwestern China, a case highlighted by his controversial handover to the mainland from Hong Kong.
No verdict was announced at the end of Zhou Yongjun's five-hour hearing in the Sichuan province city of Shehong, his lawyer, Chen Zerui, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Chen said the judge in the case said a verdict would be announced "at a chosen date."
Zhou captured global attention in 1989 by kneeling on the steps of the Great Hall of the People beside Tiananmen Square in a plea for China's communist leaders to acknowledge student calls for political reforms and an end to corruption.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people are believed to have been killed in the army's crackdown on the demonstrations. Many veterans of the movement who were not exiled continue to suffer government harassment.
Zhou had been living in exile in the United States, but was arrested in August 2008 while attempting to enter Hong Kong and was sent to a jail on the mainland a month later.
Supporters say he was planning on returning to mainland China to visit his elderly parents and they accuse Hong Kong's government of violating its own laws in sending him to the mainland.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997, but the territory retains separate political, legal, economic and immigration systems from the mainland. It also lacks a deportation and removal treaty with mainland China.
Chen said the charges against Zhou stem from a complaint by Hong Kong's Hang Seng bank about a suspicious request for the transfer of funds out of an account registered to Wang Xingxiang. The signature on the transfer form did not match that of the original account holder and the name Wang Xingxiang was placed on a money laundering watch list, Chen said.
Zhou was detained while attempting to enter Hong Kong on an apparently fake passport bearing the name Wang Xingxiang.
The name is a pseudonym used by the deceased leader of a meditation group banned by China, according to the Hong Kong-based group the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. The group said authorities suspected Zhou of attempting to access funds in the bank account that were frozen after the leader's death.
Chen said Zhou denied the fraud charge, arguing that he had obtained the passport through an immigration agency, a common practice among Chinese exiles, and was merely the victim of bad luck and mistaken identity.
Officials at the Shehong court reached by phone refused to comment or give their names.
Hong Kong's government refused to comment on Zhou's case. Visitors whose travel documents do not meet requirements are usually returned to their "place of embarkation or origin," the government said.
Zhou was a United States permanent resident on track to become a citizen, but did not ask to be returned to the U.S. because of an outstanding warrant issued there for his arrest, according to the information center, which has a well-established reputation for accuracy in reporting on human rights violations and political developments in mainland China. It did not say why the warrant had been issued.
Zhou's lawyer denied the existence of any warrants for his client in the U.S.