Liu Chunxia, a supporter of Xu Zhiyong, one of China’s most prominent rights advocates, is detained by policemen as she gathers with other supporters nearby a court where Xu’s trial is in progress in Beijing, yesterday.
BEIJING: Prominent Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong went on trial yesterday in the country’s most high-profile dissident case in years, but his lawyer said he refused to offer any defence and called the court unjust.
Outside the courtroom, Xu’s supporters chanted slogans and raised banners in his support. Police pushed away the crowd and at least three protesters were taken away to a police van.
The government has waged a 10-month drive against Xu’s “New Citizens’ Movement,” which advocates working within the system to press for change, including urging officials to disclose their assets.
The campaign against the movement exposes the ambivalence in Beijing’s bid to root out corruption, even as the authorities claim greater transparency.
Xu, 40, is charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” punishable by up to five years in prison. His prosecution will almost certainly spark fresh criticism from Western governments over Beijing’s crackdown on dissent.
Xu’s lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said by telephone that Xu told the judge: “This court is not just so I will maintain my silence.”
The judge tried to persuade Xu and Xu’s lawyers to speak but to no avail, so the judge called for a recess.
Zhang had earlier said both he and Xu will maintain silence during the closed-door proceedings because they do not believe the court will grant a fair trial.
After proceedings are concluded, Xu will “express his viewpoints about the trial and all that has happened to him over the past 10 years,” Zhang said, adding that he was frustrated that the court only allowed him to produce two witnesses.
Five witnesses that he had requested testify in court have been put under police guard and been prevented from moving around freely. One of them, he said, has been taken to a motel.
“Our maintaining silence does not mean we will not express our views. But we believe this court is not worth expressing our views. After the trial, we’ll tell society about our defence arguments,” Zhang said.
Xu’s elder sister and his wife will attend the hearing, he said.
China has detained at least 20 activists involved in pressing for asset disclosure, though not all are from the New Citizens’ Movement.
Six will stand trial in Beijing and the southern city of Guangzhou on Thursday and Friday. Three stood trial in December and face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.
Xu’s is China’s highest-profile dissident trial since 2009, when Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo went on trial for subversion after he helped organise the “Charter 08” petition urging the overthrow of one-party rule. Liu was jailed for 11 years.
Despite the increased security presence near the courthouse, close to two dozen Xu supporters turned up at the start of the trial, joining many reporters and photographers. But police pushed them away and closed off the road outside the courthouse, saying the crowd did not have permission to gather. Reuters