Authorities in Beijing have formally indicted anti-graft activist Xu Zhiyong on public order offenses, paving the way for a trial, his lawyer said on Monday.
In the indictment document dated on the eve of United Nations International Anti-corruption Day on Monday, Xu is accused of organizing and gathering a crowd to call on officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to disclose their assets, Xu's lawyer said.
Xu has now been indicted for "gathering a crowd to disturb public order," his lawyer Zhang Qingfang said after a brief meeting with Xu in his Beijing detention center.
"I just finished meeting with him ... He already knows, because the prosecutors told him last Friday that his case was being transferred," Zhang said. "They are now preparing the trial."
"[Xu] said he was honored to pay this price, considering how many people of high ideals have paid a price for the advancement of society," he said.
Xu was detained by Beijing police in July on charges of disrupting public order, in a widening crackdown on activists who have called on government leaders to declare their assets.
The authorities have detained dozens of other activists who have called on China's leaders to reveal details of their assets since March, rights activists estimate.
A teacher at the Beijing Postal University who has served as a delegate to the Haidian district-level People's Congress, Xu has also been active in fighting for the rights of the children of migrant workers to be educated and to sit exams in the capital.
His pro-democracy group, the Open Constitution Initiative, was banned after Xu was targeted by the authorities for "tax evasion" in 2009. He has been repeatedly called in for questioning and held under house arrest since then.
Last August, Xu called on ordinary Chinese to take a stand to protect the rights of citizens.
In a video message filmed secretly from behind bars at the Beijing No. 3 Detention Center, Xu said he is willing to take the consequences of his activism, and called on others to do the same.
"I call on everyone to be an ... outspoken citizen who exercises their rights which are guaranteed under the Constitution," Xu said.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Peng Jian, a close friend of Xu's, said his wife is now heavily pregnant, and the couple planned to apply for Xu to be released on bail or allowed to await trial under house arrest.
"We are writing out another application for him to be released on bail or to residential surveillance," Peng said.
"We want him to be able to be present when his wife gives birth, to be there at the beginning of his child's life," he said.
Beijing-based lawyer Lai Xiongbin said the suppression of Xu was a "step backward" for human rights and the rule of law in China.
"This is definitely a system-wide, top-down, nationwide policy," he said.
"It doesn't matter who you are or what your job or status is, this country doesn't allow its citizens to call on officials to make their assets public," Lai said.
"They pursue corruption as and when they decide to do so, and this is a very dangerous message," he said.
Meanwhile, Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said the system for going after corrupt officials in China usually resulted in the arrest of whistleblowers rather than officials.
"Corrupt officials in China are all being protected by their superiors," Huang said.
"As far as I know, the number of ordinary citizens arrested for taking part in the anti-corruption movement and revealing corruption far surpasses the number of officials arrested for corruption," he said.
According to former Hebei TV news editor Zhu Xinxin, China's state-controlled media has little choice but to keep silent about U.N. International Anti-Corruption Day.
"If they were to report it ... then even more people would start to think about China's position on the global corruption index," Zhu said.
China came 80th out of 177 states and territories in the 2013 Corruption Index published by the anti-graft group Transparency International, which measures perceptions of corruption around the world.
"The anti-corruption drive is not only a tool for internal power struggles ... it has also become a way for the elite to legitimize its continued rule," Zhu added.
The U.N. on Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, which set up a review mechanism helping governments to improve anti-graft laws and train experts.
Reported by Yang Fan and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.