BEIJING: A court sentenced one of China’s most prominent rights advocates to four years in prison yesterday after he campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities and for officials to disclose their assets.
Xu Zhiyong’s (pictured) jailing will send a stark warning to activists that the Chinese Communist Party will crush any challenge to its rule, especially from those who seek to organise campaigns.
It also diminishes hopes for meaningful political change, even as China pledges to embark on economic reforms. Separately, one of China’s most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, who frequently accuses authorities of infringing civil liberties, said police had summoned him on a charge of “suspicion of causing a disturbance”.
The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court found Xu guilty of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”, the court said on its official microblog. Xu was tried on Wednesday.
Xu’s lawyer Zhang Qingfang said he would meet Xu within the next two days to determine whether to lodge an appeal.
“He said (in court) that the last remaining dignity of the Chinese legal system has been destroyed,” Zhang said. “It’s not that we can’t bear this result but that, fundamentally, the guilty conviction is illegal, is unreasonable and unfair.”
There were chaotic scenes outside the court as police shoved and harassed foreign reporters. Zhang was briefly taken away in a van by police after the hearing. He said police were still tailing him after he was released.
The government has waged a 10-month drive against Xu’s “New Citizens’ Movement”, which advocates working within the system to press for change. Hundreds of citizens have participated in activities related to the movement, rights activists say.
“This is a shameful but sadly predictable verdict. The Chinese authorities have once again opted for the rule of fear over the rule of law,” Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Hu, the dissident, said he was prepared to face detention. “It’s because I’ve participated in many street protests,” Hu said as police waited outside his door to take him away. “I’ve asked for officials to publicly disclose their assets and have expressed solidarity with those who’ve been arrested. I’ve appealed to many people to watch and promote these street protests.”
China has detained at least 20 activists involved in pressing for asset disclosure by officials, although not all are from the New Citizens’ Movement. Two activists stood trial on Thursday in Beijing and four others will be tried today.