Three activists who campaigned for Chinese officials to disclose their wealth were jailed yesterday in the culmination of a high-profile trial that underscores Beijing’s resolve to clamp down on dissent.
The activists were among more than a dozen detained in recent months for their anticorruption activism. Rights groups say the crackdown on the group throws into sharp relief the limits of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) campaign against graft.
Despite a few pilot schemes for low-level officials to disclose their assets, public discussion of the wealth of senior leaders remains strictly off-limits.
Graft lubricates the wheels of China’s government, and inquiries into Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elites have revealed billions of US dollars in undisclosed assets, often held by trusted friends or family members.
Two of the activists, Liu Ping (劉萍) and Wei Zhongping (魏忠平), were each sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison on charges of disrupting public order, “using evil religion to sabotage law enforcement” and “picking fights and provoking trouble.”
Another activist, Li Sihua (李思華), was sentenced to three years in prison, on charges of picking quarrels and provoking disputes.
“It is not fair; it is not just,” Liu’s lawyer Si Weijiang (斯偉江) said by telephone. “The laws can just be bent however [the government] wants in politicized cases.”
The sentences were handed down yesterday by a court in the central Chinese province of Jiangxi. Court officials could not be reached for comment.
Human rights groups condemned the judgement.
In a statement, Amnesty International called the charges “preposterous.”
“Having a small private gathering and holding a banner in a lobby entrance demanding financial transparency from officials should not in any way constitute ‘picking quarrels’ and ‘illegal assembly,’” said William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty.
The activists, encouraged by Xi’s anticorruption campaign, took photographs of themselves holding banners and placards that read “Strongly urge officials to disclose their assets” and “Xi Jinping, immediately end dictatorship.”
The photos were widely circulated online.
“What was written on the signs is simply a suggestion to the country’s new leaders. It is completely within the scope of the freedom of expression that is within our country’s constitution,” Si said.
The activists were part of a loose-knit group called the New Citizens Movement.