China's prominent anti-graft activist Xu Zhiyong, who has been campaigning for top officials to reveal their wealth, is to go on trial on Wednesday on charges of disrupting public order, his lawyer said after a pre-trial hearing on Friday.
Xu, a legal scholar, will not speak at the trial in protest over the charges he faces and other irregularities, Lawyer Zhang Qingfang told reporters after the pre-trial meeting between lawyers and prosecutors.
The Jan. 22 trial would be held at Beijing's Intermediary Court with no media or outside observers allowed to attend, effectively making the hearing a secret trial.
Zhang said only two seats at the court have been set aside for Xu's family.
Xu, founder of the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists seeking to promote the rule of law and human rights in China, was detained by Beijing police in July last year on charges of disrupting public order, in a widening crackdown on activists who have called on government leaders to declare their assets.
But his formal indictment came last month, on the eve of United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day. In it, Xu was accused of organizing and gathering a crowd to call on officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to disclose their assets.
According to Beijing police, Xu hung banners calling for asset disclosure and equal access to education, creating "serious disturbances in public order in public places," and that he interfered with the work of public security officials.
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.
At least a half dozen other activists associated with Xu's group have been charged and are also expected to be tried soon.
'Not a just court'
Zhang said Xu would not speak at the trial "to show that his rights will not be protected" and because "this is not a just court."
"[A]nd so we have no way of cooperating in their show," Zhang told Reuters news agency. "We will respect his wishes and also protest by maintaining silence."
But Zhang said that Xu was in good spirits.
"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," Zhang said, according to Reuters.
In 2009, Xu was detained and formally arrested on suspicion of evading taxes — a charge seen as a bid by the authorities to disrupt his work in a legal aid organization that represented politically sensitive cases. He was released after spending about a month in jail.
He was detained again last July and a month later delivered a bold message from inside a Beijing jail, urging citizens to unite in pursuing democratic freedoms.
A teacher at the Beijing Postal University who has served as a delegate to the Haidian district-level legislature, 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.
In a video message filmed secretly from behind bars at the Beijing No. 3 Detention Center after his detention, Xu said he is willing to take the consequences of his activism and called on others to do the same.
Xi's anti-graft campaign
Since taking office in March, President Xi Jinping has demanded officials cut down on waste and extravagance and get closer to the people, as part of a broader campaign against corruption.
Xi has warned that the party must beat graft in order to survive, and has launched a campaign targeting powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies."
But political analysts say the authorities will use the campaign largely as a tool against their political opponents, and that calls for full transparency and public whistleblowing are still highly unwelcome.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.