A prominent Chinese legal activist defiantly denounced a Chinese court as “absurd” on Friday as it upheld his jail sentence for supporting anti-corruption protests, his lawyer said.
Xu Zhiyong (許志永), 40, was sentenced to four years in prison in January for backing demonstrations in which a handful of activists held up banners calling for Chinese government officials to disclose their assets, as Beijing cracks down on a burgeoning rights movement.
Beijing’s high court rejected his appeal and upheld its original verdict, his lawyer Zhang Qingfang (張慶方) said, but Xu remained resolute.
“This absurd judgement cannot halt the tide of human progress,” he said Xu told the court. “The communist dictatorship is bound to disperse like haze, and the light of freedom and justice will illuminate the East.”
The legal academic is a founder and central figure in the New Citizens Movement, a loose-knit network, which campaigns on corruption, access to education and other issues.
China has put Xu and 10 other members of the movement on trial this year on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” over the protests last year.
“This is absolutely an illegal and ridiculous decision,” Zhang said of the appeal ruling.
Amnesty International said it was a “mockery of justice.”
“Xu Zhiyong is a prisoner of conscience and he should be released immediately and unconditionally,” Amnesty researcher William Nee said in a statement. “The authorities must end this merciless persecution of all those associated with the New Citizens Movement.”
US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki branded the ruling “retribution for his public campaign to expose official corruption,” and called for his immediate release.
“We remain deeply concerned that the prosecution of Xu and others is part of a deepening pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, labor activists, journalists, religious leaders and others, who peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions,” she added.
The US and the EU condemned the original verdict against Xu and an EU diplomat said representatives from at least 10 countries attempted to observe the appeal hearing were denied access by Chinese police.
Police “grabbed and shoved” at least one diplomat outside the Chinese courthouse, said the envoy, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.
Asked about the accusation, Beijing’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told a regular briefing that China “safeguards the legitimate rights of diplomats,” but also “requests that diplomats respect China’s laws.”
“The ruling was made by the judicial authorities in accordance with the law,” he said of the court’s decision, adding that “China is a country governed by the rule of law.”
Xu studied law at the elite Peking University and in the last decade became one of an emerging group of “rights defense” lawyers, pushing for political change through court cases.
China has made significant reforms to its legal system since the 1970s and says it guarantees its citizens’ legal rights, but it continues to use the courts to control protesters and intellectuals speaking out against government policy.
Xu came to nationwide prominence in 2003, campaigning against a form of extra-legal detention allowing Chinese police to detain people arbitrarily if they traveled away from their rural hometowns. The law was ultimately changed.