BEIJING—Chinese authorities said they plan to hold an open trial when they try two foreign investigators tied to U.K. drug company GlaxoSmithKline GSK.LN +0.61% PLC on charges of illegally purchasing personal information about Chinese nationals.
The degree of openness wasn’t immediately clear. But the move raises the possibility that U.S. and U.K. officials will be allowed to observe the proceedings against Peter William Humphrey, a 58-year-old British national, and his wife, Yu Yingzeng, a 61-year-old American. U.S. consular officials had previously said the court planned to bar foreign consular officials and families of the investigators because of privacy issues.
The Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People’s Court said on its official microblog account on Thursday that it made the move after hearing suggestions from Ms. Yu and Mr. Humphrey as well as from prosecutors to open the trial. It said the trial date will be adjusted accordingly, without offering further details.
The trial had been planned for Aug. 7, according to the U.S. consulate.
Phones at the Shanghai court rang unanswered on Thursday. Officials at the U.S. and U.K. embassies in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu, in custody since July 2013, couldn’t be reached for comment, nor could their attorneys.
In a statement, Harvard Humphrey, the couple’s 19-year-old son, said, “I’m very pleased and grateful.” He added, “I will certainly attend the trial and I can’t wait to see my parents.”
Chinese authorities placed the couple in custody last year after Glaxo hired them to investigate a sex video taken of the drug company’s top China executive. The video was taken in the executive’s bedroom, shot without his knowledge or consent and sent last March in an email to other Glaxo executives, a spokesman for Glaxo said earlier this month.
An open trial makes it more likely that the court will disclose some of the proceedings through its official social-media accounts or through one of China’s official news services. But it isn’t likely that the court will be open to foreign journalists. Foreign reporters are rarely allowed to observe Chinese court proceedings. Local reporters sometimes attend, but attendees are generally selected by court officials.
In 2010, when mining executive and Australian national Stern Hu was charged with bribery, Australian consular officials were allowed inside the court but foreign media members weren’t, though they were permitted to watch the final proceedings by closed-circuit television from a courtroom annex. Last year, during the trial of former Communist Party highflier Bo Xilai on corruption charges, Chinese officials told reporters that the trial was open but all the seats had been taken already.
The case against Ms. Yu and Mr. Humphrey has sparked worry among their family members, as well as diplomats and professionals working in China, about the lack of transparency in China’s judicial system.
Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu appeared on state-run China Central Television on Monday, both wearing orange vests typical for prisoners. Mr. Humphrey said on CCTV, “I deeply regret having offended any Chinese law.”
By LAURIE BURKITT – Updated July 17, 2014 – the wall street journal