A PROMINENT Chinese rights activist expressed defiance after a court upheld his four-year jail sentence, saying the pall of communism and dictatorship would eventually give way to freedom and justice.
The ruling against Xu Zhiyong sparked fresh criticism from the European Union, the United States and rights groups, although it had been widely expected. China’s courts are controlled by the Communist Party and rarely favour dissidents.
Through his online essays and Twitter account, Mr Xu pushed for officials to disclose assets and fought for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities, where many live with their migrant-worker parents.
His calls encouraged several activists to assemble and unfurl banners in public places.
“This ridiculous judgment cannot hold back the tide of progress,” he told the court after the verdict was read out.
“The haze of the communist dictatorship must eventually lift and the light of freedom, fairness, justice and love will eventually fill China,” he added.
He was jailed in January after being found guilty of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”.
Beijing has waged a year-long drive against Mr Xu’s New Citizens’ Movement, which advocates working within the system to press for open government. Hundreds of Chinese have participated in activities related to the movement, according to rights advocates, who say Mr Xu’s case is a warning from the Communist Party that it will crush any challenge to its rule, especially from those who seek to organise campaigns.
One of Mr Xu’s lawyers, Zhang Qingfang, said he was unsurprised by the verdict.
“Xu Zhiyong created a path for citizens to push for social progress within the legal framework because he has always been against the past revolutionary practices of overthrowing or subverting [the system] to promote society’s progress,” Mr Zhang said.
Mr Xu’s wife and his sister were escorted to the hearing by state security officers, Mr Zhang said. A western diplomat said police officers shoved several diplomats who tried to approach the courthouse.
Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary at the European Union delegation to China, said the ruling was “a very bad sign in terms of the willingness of the Chinese authorities to implement their commitments to fight corruption and to more transparency”.
Asked about the West’s criticism of the verdict against Mr Xu, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said “the relevant ruling was made in accordance with the law by Chinese judicial authorities”.
The verdict said: “As the leading member, Xu Zhiyong’s actions constituted a criminal act of gathering a crowd to disturb public order and should be punished according to the law.”
China has detained or jailed at least 20 activists involved in pressing for asset disclosure by officials, hard on the heels of an anti-corruption drive launched by president Xi Jinping which has failed to support greater transparency.
Three activists stood trial this week in Beijing and two were convicted in January.
William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said Mr Xi must end China’s “merciless persecution” of the New Citizens Movement.