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China to put prominent anti-graft activist on trial next week

Source: Reuters - Fri, 17 Jan 2014 11:42 GMT
Author: Reuters
A pro-democracy protester, wearing a mask depicting a Chinese political prisoner, carries a placard, with the prisoner's name and his charges, during a protest calling for the release of political prisoners in Hong Kong October 1, 2013. The placard reads, "Xu Zhiyong - Disrupting public order". REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING, Jan 17 (Reuters) - China will begin a long-awaited trial next week of a prominent anti-graft activist campaigning for officials to reveal their wealth, his lawyer said on Friday, on charges he broke the law by organising demonstrations.

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.

His lawyer said the trial would open on Wednesday.

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

Founder of the "New Citizens' Movement", Xu advocates working within the system to secure change. He had called on officials to disclose their assets and fellow activists have gone into the streets to urge citizens to fight corruption.

Lawyer Zhang Qingfang, speaking after a pre-trial hearing, said they had asked to be allowed to present their own witnesses, but that officials at the hearing said they were "unable to resolve" this issue.

Xu, he said, will refuse to speak at the trial in Beijing to protest this and other irregularities.

"It is to show that his rights will not be protected, that this is not a just court, and so we have no way of cooperating in their show," he said by telephone. "We will respect his wishes and also protest by maintaining silence."

Xu was in good spirits though, Zhang added.

"He says that whether or not the trial or verdict is just he can accept it, because this is the result of his choices," he said. "Of course I am not optimistic. There will not be a happy verdict, and he will certainly be found guilty."

Beijing police say Xu hung banners in public calling for asset disclosure and equal access to education. He also campaigned for the right of children from rural areas, who lack the required residence permit, 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.

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.

Xi Jinping's appointment as Communist Party chief in 2012 had inspired many Chinese with hope for political reform, spurring citizens nationwide to push for the asset disclosures.

But the detentions and Xu's trial signal the Communist Party will tolerate no open challenge to its rule.

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 to stifle his work. The charges were dropped after a public furore. (Editing by Ron Popeski)

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