Beijing High Court Rejects Anti-Graft Activist's Appeal

Xu Zhiyong speaks from behind bars at the Beijing No. 3 Detention Center in a screen grab from an undated video posted online on Aug. 7, 2013.
Photo courtesy of a rights activist.

A court in the Chinese capital on Friday upheld a four-year jail term given to prominent anti-corruption campaigner Xu Zhiyong, who in the courtroom loudly denounced it as a "ridiculous" judgment that cannot stop the tide of change.  

The Beijing High People's Court rejected his appeal against the January sentence seen as punishment for his efforts to expose high-level graft within President Xi Jinping's government.

"This morning, the Beijing High People's Court reached a decision in the case of Xu Zhiyong, convicted of gathering a crowd to disturb public order," the court said in a statement posted on its official Twitter-like Sina Weibo account.

"The Beijing high court judge was of the opinion that the initial verdict and sentence clearly showed the facts of the matter, with comprehensive evidence," it said.

"The charges and the sentencing were appropriate ... so this court has decided to reject Xu Zhiyong's appeal and to uphold the original verdict," the post said.

Xu was in court when the appeal decision was read out, and loudly denounced it as "ridiculous," his lawyer Zhang Qingfang told RFA after the hearing.

According to Zhang, Xu told the court: "This ridiculous judgment cannot halt the tide of human progress."

Zhang said he and Xu had expected the appeal to be rejected all along.

"However, we are still disappointed in the judicial authorities," he said. "They had an opportunity to correct a miscarriage of justice, and if they had taken it, they would have shown the public and the world that justice in China is progressing."

He said Xu welcomed his sentence, nonetheless. "Dr. Xu feels that he has been given the opportunity to carry the responsibility for the progress of democracy," Zhang said. "He sees this as an honor."

He said further appeal was technically possible, but probably "meaningless."

"Without major political change in China towards greater openness and enlightenment, in the short term, this isn't going to happen," he said.

'Mockery of justice'

Xu was detained by Chinese authorities last July after he and several other members of his "New Citizens' Movement" staged peaceful protests for asset disclosure by officials and campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities.

The high court's decision drew condemnation from international human rights groups, with Amnesty International styling it a "mockery of justice."

"Today's ruling makes a mockery of justice as the decision was a foregone conclusion," China researcher William Nee said in a statement.

"Instead of upholding freedom of expression and assembly, the court opted yet again to trample all over these fundamental rights," Nee said, calling on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to end its "merciless persecution" of New Citizens' Movement activists.

Dozens of people linked in some way to the New Citizens Movement have been detained over the past year, the statement said.

Among them, Ding Jiaxi, Li Wei, Zhang Baocheng and Zhao Changqing resumed their trials this week at the Haidian District People's Court in Beijing, after they fired their defense lawyers in protest at breaches of court procedure by the authorities in January.

According to Ding's lawyer Sui Muqing, the rejection of Xu's appeal means that the four tried this week are almost certain to be found guilty and sentenced to jail, in line with other, similar cases.

"They will definitely be sentenced to jail," Sui said. "I think Ding Jiaxi will probably get three to four years, but the others won't get such a heavy sentence; maybe one or two years."

He said Xu's appeal process had been largely a decision reached on paper, and that the high court had broken the law in not hearing the case again.

"This paper appeal hearing is really just them going through the motions," Sui said.

Security tightened

Beijing-based rights activist Ye Jinghuan, who passed by the high court on Friday, said security was as tight as it had been for the Haidian trials.

"There were a lot of police there from the local police station outside the gates, checking everyone who came in and out of the court buildings," Ye said.

"It was the same as the previous trials," she said.

Xu is China's highest-profile dissident to be sentenced to jail since 2009, when Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was ordered imprisoned for 11 years for subversion after helping organize the "Charter 08" petition urging an end to one-party rule in China.

In May 2012, Xu penned an article titled "China Needs a New Citizens Movement," which is believed to have spurred the loose nationwide network of activists to action.

The article called on responsible citizens to oppose corruption and work to support disadvantaged groups, as well as holding political meetings and collaborating to achieve these goals.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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