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China paves way for trial of prominent anti-graft activist

Source: Reuters - Mon, 9 Dec 2013 09:11 AM
Author: Reuters
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A pro-democracy protester carries a placard reading "Xu Zhiyong - Disrupting public order" - a reference to the charges against Xu - during a protest calling for the release of political prisoners in Hong Kong on October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
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BEIJING, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Beijing police have recommended state prosecutors bring charges against an anti-graft activist campaigning for Chinese officials to reveal their wealth, saying he broke the law by organising demonstrations, lawyers said on Monday.

Xu Zhiyong, who has also pushed for greater civil rights, was formally arrested in August in a case that has exposed shortcomings in the government's drive against deep-rooted corruption.

Western governments have sparred repeatedly with Beijing over human rights and both the United States and European Union have expressed concern about Xu's case.

Xu, the founder of the "New Citizens' Movement", advocates working within the system to press for change.

He had called on officials online to disclose their assets and fellow activists have gone into the streets to urge citizens to combat corruption.

In a letter of recommendation that Xu be prosecuted, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, Beijing police said he organised activities where he hung banners in public calling for asset disclosure and equal access to education.

Xu had also campaigned for the right of children from rural areas, who lack the correct residence paperwork, to be educated in cities where many live with their migrant worker parents.

Police said that Xu's activities "created serious disturbances in public order in public places" and that he interfered with the work of public security officials, according to the document.

Beijing police did not respond to a request for comment.

"This represents the opinion of the public security authorities. Usually, the prosecutors will not make any changes, or just a few small ones," said Si Weijiang, a lawyer who was initially hired as counsel but then not allowed to represent Xu.

Si said it could be at least another month or so before the official letter of indictment is issued, and only after that would there be a trial.

Zhang Qingfang, a lawyer who has been allowed to represent Xu, said the trial could be six months away.

"Right now it's difficult to say," he told Reuters.

China has detained at least 16 activists in the asset disclosure campaign, in what rights groups say is the new leadership's first crackdown targeting graft campaigners.

Three of those activists went on trial last week in the poor southern province of Jiangxi.

Xi Jinping's appointment as Communist Party chief in a once-in-a-decade leadership change last November had inspired many Chinese with hope for political reform, spurring citizens nationwide to push for the asset disclosures.

But the detentions signal the Communist Party will not tolerate any open challenge to its rule, despite the claims of greater transparency.

Xu has long been a thorn in the government's side. In 2009, he was briefly arrested on tax evasion charges his defenders said were trumped up in a bid to stifle his work. The charges were dropped after a public furore.

(Reporting by Natalie Thomas and Megha Rajagopalan; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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