updated 5/15/2006 11:45:37 AM ET 2006-05-15T15:45:37

A Chinese man who tried to register an independent environmental group went on trial Monday on charges of stealing state secrets, an overseas human rights group and court official said.

Computer technician Tan Kai has been in custody since being summoned Oct. 19 by police after opening a bank account as part of attempts to register an environmental group, "Green Watch."

Tan's trial began at the Xihu District People's Court in the eastern city of Hangzhou on Monday morning, but was closed to the public because it involved state secrets, said a court official reached by telephone. The official refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Police officials said they had no information about the case.

Green Watch was later banned in an apparent reflection of authorities' deep suspicion of any independent organization dealing with sensitive issues. Five other members were summoned for questioning along with Tan but were later released.

The six informally launched Green Watch last summer, inspired by a violent struggle by villagers in the nearby city of Dongyang to shut down waste-spewing chemical plants blamed for crop failures and birth defects in infants.

New York-based Human Rights in China said the charges against Tan stemmed from repairs he did on a computer belonging to a member of the provincial Communist Party committee.

Tan made a routine backup record of files on the computer's hard drive, leaving him open to the charge of "illegally obtaining state secrets," it said.

Chinese leaders have demanded urgent measures to stem widespread environmental ravages, warning they threaten both public health and social stability.

A small number of non-governmental environmental groups are allowed to operate, although their funding and activities are far smaller than such groups as Greenpeace in the West.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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