The Chinese authorities must immediately release prominent activist Xu Zhiyong, whose trial is due to start in Beijing on Wednesday, Amnesty International said.
Xu Zhiyong wrote an article in May 2012, titled China Needs a New Citizens’ Movement, which is credited with spurring a loose network of activists who aim to promote government transparency and expose corruption.
Several other activists are also due to be tried later this week in connection with the New Citizens Movement.
“Instead of President Xi Jinping’s promised clamp-down on corruption, we are seeing a crackdown against those that want to expose it. The persecution of activists associated with the New Citizens Movement has to end,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.
A highly regarded legal scholar, Xu Zhiyong has been detained in Beijing since July. He faces charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place.” He faces up to five years in jail if convicted.
“We consider Xu Zhiyong to be a prisoner of conscience and he should be released immediately and unconditionally. Anything less would make a mockery of the Chinese government’s ongoing anti-corruption efforts,” said Rife.
Dozens of people linked to the New Citizens Movement – however tenuously – have been detained over the past year. Several of these activists have already been prosecuted simply for exercising their rights to assembly and free speech.
At a pre-trial hearing last Friday, a judge rejected a request from Xu Zhiyong’s lawyer for his case to be tried alongside other defendants that have been jointly charged for their activities linked to the New Citizens Movement. Xu Zhiyong has said he will remain silent in court in protest of the decision.
A further five activists are due to stand trial in Beijing later this week. Zhao Changqing and Hou Xin, are due to stand trial on Thursday. The trials of Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei, and Yuan Dong and Zhang Baocheng are expected to start on Friday.
“By denying a collective trial the judge is preventing the full-truth from being heard. It is yet another example of the injustice these activists face,” said Rife.
Three other activists - Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua – were put on trial in December 2013 in Jiangxi Province in southern China. Zhang Lin, a veteran activist, stood trial on 18 December. The verdict in these cases is still to be announced.
According to the organization Chinese Human Rights Defendersmore than 65 people who are allegedly connected with the “New Citizens’ Movement” have been criminally detained or subjected to enforced disappearance as of early December. Thirty-seven have been formally arrested.
Xu Zhiyong has described the “New Citizens’ Movement” as a peaceful cultural, social and political campaign.
Suggested activities for “New Citizens” include; practicing “New Citizen Responsibility” by rejecting corruption and by doing good for society; participating in civic life by holding meetings to discuss the political situation; helping the weak; and uniting to share and coordinate work.