China denies report of scholar trial
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The Chinese government has denied a report that a trial of U.S.-connected scholars who were detained on espionage charges was expected to begin Thursday.
MSNBC quoted a source in China's legal system as saying a trial would open Thursday and a second session likely leading to a conviction on espionage charges would be held Monday.
China's Foreign Ministry said a case would be heard, but would not answer the specifics of dates or possible motivations for releasing some of the scholars.
Shortly after their separate detentions earlier this year, the government said scholars Li Shaomin and Gao Zhan had been charged with espionage and that the Chinese Justice Ministry was carrying out an investigation.
"I think many of the correspondents all know that Li Shaomin and Gao Zhan are suspected of espionage in China, and there is iron-clad evidence that they have admitted to their crimes," Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a regularly scheduled press conference.
"As to the details which you asked about, I don't know. But I want to stress that the relevant departments in China responsible for the case will try the case in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations."
CNN contacted the lawyer of Gao Zhan as well as her husband, who lives in the United States. Neither had heard of the reported trial. Gao Zhan is a permanent resident of the U.S.
A relative of Li Shaomin contacted by CNN said he also had not heard of a pending trial.
Li Shaomin, 44 is a U.S. citizen and associate professor at the business school of the City University of Hong Kong. He was apparently seized by security personnel when he crossed the border form Hong Kong to the Chinese city of Shenzhen on February 25.
Gao, a permanent U.S. resident and an ethnic Chinese sociology researcher teaching at the American University in Washington, was arrested in China on spying charges.
She was held incommunicado when she was separated from her husband Xue Donghua and son as they were about to leave Beijing on February 11.
A human rights group based in Hong Kong that is run by Frank Lu, which usually has good inside information, had also not heard that any of the detained scholars were up for trial.
There are several academics known to have been detained in recent months.
Two are U.S. citizens, and two are permanent residents.
Theories about why they were detained have ranged from suspicion that they had a role in getting the 'Tiananmen Papers' out of China to the government's paranoia about a high-level military defections to the United States.
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