A Chinese court yesterday sentenced four anti-graft protesters to between two and three-and-a-half years in jail over their role in small-scale demonstrations, furthering a crackdown on rights activists.
The four were associated with the New Citizens Movement, a loose network whose members held peaceful protests in Beijing last year, carrying banners calling for officials to disclose their assets as a measure against graft.
They were sentenced for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” Beijing’s Haidian District Court said on an official microblog. The charge has often been used to detain protesters.
Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), a well-known human rights lawyer, was jailed for three-and-a-half years, while veteran activist Zhao Chang-qing (趙常青) was jailed for two-and-a-half years, the court said.
Fellow protesters Zhang Baocheng (張寶成) and Li Wei (李蔚) both received two-year sentences.
The verdicts come a week after Beijing’s high court upheld a four-year sentence for Xu Zhiyong (許志永), a founder of the movement. Ten New Citizens Movement members have faced trial this year.
“The ruling is a warning and a threat,” Ge Yongxi (葛永喜), a lawyer for Zhang told reporters, adding that his client complied with police requests to hand over his banners when the protests, involving a handful of activists, were curtailed.
“We think he’s completely innocent. There is no legal basis for the court’s ruling, and the punishment is too heavy,” Ge said, adding that his client would appeal.
The activists were jailed “because they asked for officials to expose their assets,” said Zhang Keke (張科科), a lawyer for Ding.
He added that the court had violated regulations by not granting Ding an opportunity to express a demand to appeal the verdict after it was read out.
Police also detained six activists who traveled to Beijing to stand outside the court yesterday, fellow campaigner Wang Aizhong (王愛忠) told reporters by phone.
Five diplomats attempting to attend the sentencings were barred from doing so, said Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary at the EU’s delegation to China.
He told reporters that the EU was concerned about the verdicts, adding that citizens were being “prosecuted for peacefully expressing their views”.
Security has been heavy outside New Citizens Movement trials, with media barred from standing near courthouses and police sometimes manhandling journalists and diplomats.
The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly vowed to combat rampant official corruption, with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) threatening to target high-ranking “tigers” and low-level “flies” amid public anger over the issue.
However the party has cracked down on activists pursuing the same goals, viewing independently organized anti-corruption protests as a challenge to its tight grip on power.