The founder of a grassroots movement to boost accountability for China’s officials went on trial yesterday on charges of disrupting public order, but stayed silent during the closed-door proceedings in protest, his lawyer said.
The trial against New Citizens founder Xu Zhiyong (許志永) reflects determination by the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to squash the loosely knit activists before they can challenge Chinese Communist Party rule, even though their goals largely overlap with the party’s stated drive to root out public corruption and build a fairer society.
“If it is a crime to demand a clean government, to ask officials to declare assets and to demand equity in education, then how can this country have equality and justice?” said Du Guowang (杜國旺), an activist for education equity with no link to the movement. “This government has no confidence, but is fearful.”
Xu has participated in small public rallies that have, among other issues, called for officials to declare their assets as a way of curbing graft — something party leaders have expressed willingness to consider, but have resisted while pushing a high-profile corruption crackdown.
Since April last year, authorities have detained about 17 people linked to the New Citizens movement, putting three of them on trial in Jiangxi Province late last year.
Yesterday’s trial against Xu opened the second round of prosecution. At least six other activists will appear in court today and tomorrow in Beijing, and political and legal observers have said they believe all will be found guilty and jailed for several years.
Xu stayed mum in court as a way of protesting what he considered the trial’s injustice, according to a brief account sent by text message by his lawyer, Zhang Qingfang (張慶方).
The charges against Xu stem from public gatherings at which activists unfurled banners calling for assets’ disclosures or equality in education.
A large group of police prevented reporters and Xu’s supporters from going near the courthouse and were seen hauling people away.