Two men accused of leading massive workers' protests in Liaoyang city last year will be put on trial on Wednesday for allegedly engaging in subversive activities. The charge carries a maximum penalty of death or life in prison. Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang were arrested in Liaoyang on March 20 last year for their alleged role in organising demonstrations involving 30,000 workers from 20 bankrupt state-run firms. The workers denounced corrupt local officials, complained about unpaid pensions and demanded more aid for their laid-off colleagues. Lawyer Mo Shaoping said the two were accused of joining the banned China Democracy Party. Labour rights groups have expressed dismay that authorities sought to use accusations of subversion to silence what they say were legitimate labour protests. 'The accusation that the two labour protest leaders plotted with a banned political group to organise labour unrest, causing social chaos, was unjustified,' said Li Qiang, a member of the New York-based China Labour Watch. He said Yao and Xiao had only signed petitions from the banned China Democracy Party's Liaoning branch. What authorities really feared was their leading role in organising workers at the Tiehejin steel mill, which formed the core of the March demonstrations, he said. An official of the Liaoyang city Intermediate People's Court said the case would be opened for public hearing. The family members of the accused men said the case had been politicised. Factory colleagues and relatives said they would attend the hearing to show their support. Yao's family had been put under 24-hour surveillance, according to China Labour Watch, and the family's telephone line has been tampered with so calls could not be received. Xiao's wife, Su Anhua, said she was worried that the condition of her husband, already in poor health before the detention, was deteriorating in prison. Police have refused to let family members visit the two detained men.