A dissident Chinese writer in police custody faces trial for inciting subversion as part of an apparent government crackdown on dissent ahead of the Beijing Olympics, three writers’ associations said.

Zhou Yuanzhi, 47, a former tax official, and his wife were taken away by the National Security Bureau of Zhongxiang city in the central province of Hubei on Saturday, PEN centres of the United States, Canada and China which champion writers’ freedom of expression said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The statement, received via e-mail, called Zhou’s detention “another troublesome indication that a crackdown on freedom of expression is under way in China ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games”.

Zhou is a freelance writer who has published two books in Hong Kong and more than 500 articles under several pen names in overseas Chinese-language magazines and Web sites. Many of his articles have been critiques on social issues and official corruption.

He lost his job in Zhongxiang city’s taxation bureau in 1992 and was stripped of his Communist Party membership for contributing an article to Voice of America in defiance of a ban.

His wife was released and placed under house arrest. Their home phone went unanswered.

Last year, the PEN centres launched an Olympic countdown campaign to protest against China’s imprisonment of at least 40 writers and journalists and to seek an end to Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write.

The Zhongxiang city government and local police, reached by telephone, declined to comment.

Last month, prominent AIDS activist Hu Jia was jailed for 3-½ years for inciting subversion and criticising the ruling Communist Party, drawing international condemnation.