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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Beijing stepped up its rhetoric in advance of Friday's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Supporters of this year's laureate, the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, were described as clowns. China has also launched a sweeping crackdown on dissidents, many of whom are under house arrest already.

The quest for human rights in China is a personal one for a Canadian woman in Beijing. She's trying to get her husband released from a mainland jail.

NPR's Louisa Lim has more.

LOUISA LIM: The past seven months have been a Kafkaesque journey through China's justice system for Karen Patterson. At home with her six-year-old daughter, Hannah, she seems like any other mother. But this Canadian spends her day lobbying for her husband, artist Wu Yuren. Back in May he went to a police station to help a friend file a complaint against his landlord. He hasn't been home since.

Ms. KAREN PATTERSON: The first three weeks I was being told by many people in the community this happens all the time in China, you know, we'll get him out, no problem.

LIM: But that never happened. On the first day in the police station, Wu Yuren was beaten up, Patterson says, by five police officers who injured his arm. Later on, charges were laid against the artist of interfering with public service with violence. Patterson has only seen her husband twice in seven months - one of those times in court. She says he denies the charges.

Ms. PATTERSON: My husband sticks to his story that he never hit a police officer but apparently during the beating of my husband, one of the police officers injured his finger. And so they're using that as supposed evidence against my husband. So, it's a bit of a setup.

LIM: She believes he's being punished for earlier activism.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

LIM: Back in February, he organized a protest march along Beijing's most symbolic avenue, Changan Avenue, which leads to Tiananmen Square. He was leading a group of artists who'd been evicted from their studios without proper compensation then attacked by thugs. Wu also signed Charter 08, the declaration for democratic reform co-authored by Nobel laureate Lu Xiaobo.

Another of the signatories is one of China's most famous artists, Ai Weiwei. He designed the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics, but he's become better known as an outspoken government critic.

(Soundbite of people talking)

LIM: On the morning that Wu Yuren's trial opened, Ai Weiwei was among the crowd outside the courtroom to bear witness.

Mr. AI WEIWEI (Artist): I'm coming in supporting him, also to witness this very dark case, when they just make up the evidence and the, you know, the judicial system is not independent. And this is a terrible case.

(Soundbite of people talking)

LIM: Outside this small courthouse in Beijing's far suburbs, a kind of carnival of injustice was under way. Petitioners - themselves victims of wrongdoing - had turned out, and were openly singing protest songs. The lyrics include the words: The Communist party has a lot of corrupt officials. The international media were filming them, as were the police and Wu's fellow artists.

One of those filming turned out to be Gao Qiang, one of the Gao brothers, who are famous for their satirical political art.

Mr. GAO QIANG: (through translator) China's reality is all about politics. Politics is like air here, you can't get away from it. If artists want to face up to reality, they absolutely must confront political problems.

(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)

LIM: For those protestors - and for Wu Yuren inside - this is no performance, but real life injustice. Wu's case has been adjourned, with the judge asking to see more evidence - an unusual step for a Chinese court. No date has yet been set for a second hearing. But his Canadian wife says she accepts that he won't be acquitted, since that's unheard of in China.

She's been told he can expect a sentence of up to three years.

Ms. PATTERSON: It's a travesty. It's despicable that it's even gone this far. But it happens all the time.

LIM: Last week, a Beijing man was detained on subversion charges after posting a photo of the 1989 demonstrations online. The month before, a woman was sent to a labor camp for a year for a single satirical tweet. Like artist Wu Yuren, these were people with a history of activism. That there's a price to pay for political activism in China is very clear but at what point that price is exacted is something that nowadays nobody can guess.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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