Prominent Chinese activist scorns court as jail term upheld

BEIJING Fri Apr 11, 2014 10:53am IST

A woman cycles past a police barricade outside an entrance to Beijing Municipal High People's Court during a verdict appeal hearing for Chinese rights activist Xu Zhiyong, in Beijing, April 11, 2014. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

A woman cycles past a police barricade outside an entrance to Beijing Municipal High People's Court during a verdict appeal hearing for Chinese rights activist Xu Zhiyong, in Beijing, April 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

Related Topics

BEIJING (Reuters) - A prominent Chinese rights activist expressed defiance on Friday after a court upheld his four-year jail sentence, saying the pall of communism and dictatorship would eventually give way to freedom and justice.

The ruling sparked fresh criticism from the United States, European Union and rights groups, though it had been expected, as China's courts are controlled by the Communist Party and almost never rule in favour of dissidents.

"This ridiculous judgment cannot hold back the tide of human progress," Xu Zhiyong told the court loudly after the verdict was read out, his lawyers told Reuters.

"The haze of the communist dictatorship must eventually lift and the light of freedom, fairness, justice and love will eventually fill China," he added.

He was jailed in January after being found guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order". The government has waged a year-long 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, according to rights advocates, who say Xu's case is a warning from Communist Party that it will crush any challenge to its rule, especially from those who seek to organise campaigns.

One of Xu's lawyers, Zhang Qingfang, said he was unsurprised by the verdict, and called the reasons offered by the court "extremely ridiculous".

"Xu Zhiyong created a path for citizens to push for social progress within the legal framework because he has always been against the past revolutionary practices of overthrowing or subverting (the system) to promote society's progress," Zhang said.

Xu's wife and elder sister were escorted to the hearing by state security officers, Zhang said. A Western diplomat said police officers shoved several diplomats who tried to approach the courthouse.

The United States is "deeply disappointed" by the court's decision, Nolan Barkhouse, spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Beijing, said.

"We call on Chinese authorities to release Xu and other political prisoners immediately, remove restrictions on their freedom of movement and guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China's international human rights commitments," Barkhouse said.

Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary at the European Union delegation to China, said the ruling was "a very bad sign in terms of the willingness of the Chinese authorities to implement their commitments to fight corruption and to more transparency".

Through his online essays and account on social media site Twitter, Xu pushed for officials to disclose assets and fought for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities, where many live with their migrant worker parents.

His calls encouraged several activists to assemble and unfurl banners in public places.

"As the leading member, Xu Zhiyong's actions constituted a criminal act of gathering a crowd to disturb public order and should be punished according to the law," the court said in the verdict statement that was seen by Reuters.

While President Xi Jinping has made battling corruption a priority, authorities have shown no sign of agreeing to demands for such disclosures by all officials.

Wary of any organised challenge to the Chinese Communist Party's rule, Xi's administration has ratcheted up pressure on dissent. It has clamped down on critics on the Internet and tightened curbs on journalists.

China has detained or jailed at least 20 activists involved in pressing for asset disclosure by officials, although not all are from the New Citizens' Movement.

Three activists stood trial this week in Beijing and two were convicted in January.

China "must end this merciless persecution of all those associated with the New Citizens Movement", William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, said the cases against the New Citizens Movement members "are part of one of the largest crackdowns against dissent and free expression in recent years".

(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan, Editing by Ben Blanchard, Clarence Fernandez and Simon Cameron-Moore)

FILED UNDER:

Sony Cyber Attack

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Exit Polls

Exit Polls

BJP unlikely to form Jammu & Kashmir govt - polls.  Full Article 

Forceful Conversions

Forceful Conversions

BJP distances itself from religious conversions.  Full Article 

Photo

Fund Raising

Flipkart raises $700 million in fresh funding.   Full Article 

Reforms Push

Reforms Push

Modi may order insurance, coal reforms if vote delayed - officials.  Full Article 

Economic Pulse

Economic Pulse

Crank up public spending to revive growth - chief economic adviser.  Full Article 

Reuters Exclusive

Reuters Exclusive

India looks to sway Americans with nuclear power insurance plan  Full Article 

Down Under

Down Under

Magic Johnson inspires Australia to second test win.  Full Article 

Going International

Going International

Bollywood’s Priyanka Chopra sets sights on American TV.  Full Article 

India This Week

India This Week

Some of our best photos from this week.   Full Coverage 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device   Full Coverage