China jails prominent rights activist for four years

Prominent rights advocate campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities and for officials to disclose assets

 

A Chinese court sentenced one of China’s most prominent rights advocates to four years in prison today 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 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,” Mr 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.”

There were chaotic scenes outside the court as police shoved and harassed foreign reporters. Mr 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.

“The persecution of those associated with the New Citizens Movement demonstrates how fearful the Chinese leadership are of public calls for change.”

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.

“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.”.

Xu’s verdict is also a rebuff to Western governments who have expressed concern about his case.

“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 US embassy.

Mr Delk urged authorities “to release Xu and other political prisoners immediately”.

Hu, the dissident, said he was prepared to face detention.

“It’s because I’ve participated in many street protests,” Hu told reporters by telephone 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.”

Hu was jailed in 2008 for 3 1/2 years on subversion charges for criticising human rights restrictions. Some supporters saw him as a potential recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize before it went to another jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, in 2010.

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.

Xu’s trial is China’s highest-profile proceeding against a dissident since 2009, when Nobel laureate Liu went on trial for subversion after helping organise the “Charter 08” petition urging the overthrow of one-party rule. He was jailed for 11 years.

During Xu’s trial, the court rejected the 68 witnesses the defence had applied to testify. It also barred diplomats from attending.

“I’m sad, words fail me. This is a great tragedy,” said rights lawyer Teng Biao, a close friend of Xu. “In his promotion of the ‘New Citizens’ Movement’ and other human rights activities, none of it constitutes a crime, so his trial and sentencing have no legal basis.”

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.

Reuters

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.