China activist Xu silent, calls court unjust

2014-01-22 11:15
A supporter of Xu Zhiyong is taken away by policemen while he with other supporters gather near the Beijing court, where founder of the New Citizens movement Xu stands trial. (File, AP)

A supporter of Xu Zhiyong is taken away by policemen while he with other supporters gather near the Beijing court, where founder of the New Citizens movement Xu stands trial. (File, AP)

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Beijing - Prominent Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong went on trial on Wednesday in the country's most high-profile dissident case in years, but his lawyer said he refused to offer any defence and called the court unjust.

Outside the courtroom, Xu's supporters chanted slogans and raised banners in his support. Police pushed away the crowd and at least three protesters were taken away to a police van.

The government has waged a 10-month drive against Xu's "New Citizens' Movement", which advocates working within the system to press for change, including urging officials to disclose their assets.

The campaign against the movement exposes the ambivalence in Beijing's bid to root out corruption, even as the authorities claim greater transparency.

Xu, aged 40, is charged with "gathering a crowd to disturb public order", punishable by up to five years in prison. His prosecution will almost certainly spark fresh criticism from Western governments over Beijing's crackdown on dissent.

Silence

Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, told Reuters by telephone that Xu told the judge: "This court is not just so I will maintain my silence".

The judge tried to persuade Xu and Xu's lawyers to speak but to no avail, so the judge called for a recess.

Zhang had earlier said both he and Xu will maintain silence during the closed-door proceedings because they do not believe the court will grant a fair trial.

After proceedings are concluded, Xu will "express his viewpoints about the trial and all that has happened to him over the past 10 years", Zhang said, adding that he was frustrated that the court only allowed him to produce two witnesses.

Five witnesses that he had requested to testify in court have been put under police guard and been prevented from moving around freely. One of them, he said, has been taken to a motel.

"Our maintaining silence does not mean we will not express our views. But we believe this court is not worth expressing our views. After the trial, we'll tell society about our defence arguments", Zhang said.

Xu's elder sister and his wife will attend the hearing, he said.

Dissidents Warned

Despite the increased security presence near the courthouse, close to two dozen Xu supporters turned up at the start of the trial, joining many reporters and photographers.

But police pushed them away and closed off the road outside the courthouse, saying the crowd did not have permission to gather.

Three supporters were hauled away.

Hu Jia, a prominent dissident, said state security officers told him and five other activists not to leave their homes.

About 10 to 15 supporters unfurled a banner that read: "Citizens request officials to publicly disclose assets".

"Down with corrupt officials", "Xu Zhiyong is not guilty" and "Free Xu Zhiyong", they chanted.

When dozens of activists unfurled banners across the country last March and April calling for officials to disclose their assets, they did so at Xu's urging.

Through his online essays and Twitter account, Xu had criticised the government's efforts at fighting corruption and prescribed democracy and the rule of law as the solution.

"When more than 90% of the officials are corrupt, who will counter who? The social movement of asset disclosure is an effort for gradual change to the system", he wrote.

The Chinese leadership is nervous about Xu's writings, said Chen Min, a writer and friend of Xu's.

"The Communist Party does not accept pressure, the party does not accept challenges", Chen said.

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