A Chinese court sentenced prominent human rights activist Xu Zhiyong to four years in prison on Sunday after he campaigned for political transparency and the right for poor children to be educated. The US has condemned his conviction.
Xu Zhiyong’s 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.
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.
“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.
Xu’s lawyer Zhang Qingfang said he will meet Xu within the next two days to get his opinion on whether to lodge an appeal.
“He said (in court) that the last remaining dignity of the Chinese legal system has been destroyed,” Zhang told reporters.
“It’s not that we can’t bear this result but that, fundamentally, the guilty conviction is illegal, is unreasonable and unfair,” he said.
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 Chinese citizens have participated in activities related to the movement, according to rights activists.
Through his online essays and Twitter account, Xu pushed for officials to disclose their assets and also campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities, where many live with their migrant worker parents.
“The persecution of those associated with the New Citizens Movement demonstrates how fearful the Chinese leadership are of public calls for change,” Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
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 on Monday. Three went on trial in December and face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.
Xu’s trial is China’s highest-profile proceeding against a dissident since 2009, when Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was put 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.
“Instead of ‘putting power’ within a ‘cage of regulations’, as Xi Jinping has promised, the new leadership appears to be more interested in consolidating power,” Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Staging show trials of critics is wholly at odds with Xi’s self-proclaimed reformist agenda.”
The US said it was “deeply disturbed” by Xu’s jailing.
“We are concerned that today’s conviction is retribution for Xu’s public campaign to expose official corruption and for the peaceful expression of his views,” said Daniel Delk, second secretary for the political section at the U.S. embassy.
Delk said, “We call on Chinese authorities to release Xu and other political prisoners immediately”.
Speaking for the 'bottom rungs of society'
During Xu’s trial, the court rejected the 68 witnesses the defence had applied to testify. It also barred diplomats from attending the trial. FRANCE 24 reported that hundreds of security forces were positioned outside of the courthouse. Some police were also seen roughing up foreign reporters.
Zhang, Xu’s lawyer, was briefly taken away in a van by police after the hearing. He said police were still tailing him after he was released.
Du Guowang, an activist who was given legal advice by Xu in 2011 on equal education rights, said police have tailed him for nearly a week in a bid to prevent him from going to the courthouse to support Xu.
“They want these four years to prevent Xu Zhiyong from speaking,” Du said. “Because Xu Zhiyong’s words represent the masses and he’s got relatively high recognition by society. He speaks up for the bottom rungs of society.”
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-26