The Chinese trial of rights activist Xu Zhiyong, which has been called the highest-profile dissident trial since 2009, shows that there are still many in the communist country willing to risk their lives for freedom and reforms. Reports say Xu will be sentenced on Sunday and it’s one of the most watched dissident trials in years.
Interestingly, Xu’s struggle has acquired sudden relevance in the past few days. The activist’s New Citizens’ Movement advocates working within the system to press for change, including urging officials to disclose their assets. A recent Western media expose has given a huge boost and credence to his struggle – it said that Chinese officials are stashing assets worth billions of dollars abroad. More than a dozen family members of the top political and military leaders are making use of offshore companies based in the British Virgin Islands for this purpose, and among them include the brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping as well as the son and son-in-law of former premier Wen Jiabao. The websites carrying the news were blocked in China, denying ordinary Chinese an opportunity to get to the root of the rot gripping their leadership. Xu’s campaign started long ago, but the latest revelations show how justified his movement is.
Why is the government so scared about a group that campaigns for disclosure of officials’ assets? Why is the government hostile to the idea of investigating the charges made the group? The answer lies in that corruption is deep and widespread, much more than the government could weed out.
Soon after assuming office, President Xi Jinping had announced that his administration would launch a campaign to root out corruption that would target big as well as small fish. Instead of following up on that promise, the president is trying to protect the corrupt. Fear that graft at the highest level will be exposed is helping to drive a political crackdown that has swept up more than 150 activists, intellectuals and journalists. The authorities have tightened control over the Internet and silenced Chinese media, which haven’t been allowed to report on the trials of Xu and other activists. Even Western journalists in China are said to be under pressure as the communist regime fears that its reputation will be tarnished and the news will finally seep down to its population.
Unlike other dissidents and activists, Xu aimed to work within the Chinese constitution and genuinely wanted to reform the system with the support of the government. But instead, his movement has been crushed and a message is being sent to other dissidents that even legitimate, genuine voices will not be tolerated.