The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court [official website, in Chinese] sentenced [announcement, in Chinese] legal scholar and activist Xu Zhiyong [BBC Backgrounder] on Sunday to four years in prison on the charge of 'gathering a crowd to disturb public order.' Xu is the founder of the New Citizens' Movement [WSJ backgrounder, video], a grass-roots organization which seeks to draw attention to matters of public discontent, including equal access to education and disclosure of Chinese officials' personal assets to combat corruption. Xu's trial was on Wednesday January 22nd, and his closing statement [report, translated in English] to the court was interrupted by the judge after roughly ten minutes who said his comments were irrelevant. In his statement, Xu addresses the need to uphold constitutional rights for all citizens in China under the Constitution of the People's Republic of China [Chinese government website, translated in English]. US Ambassador Gary Locke [official profile] issued a statement [press release] on the day after Xu's trial, expressing concern over the recent arrests of advocates for government reform in China. Amnesty International [advocacy website] called the four year jail sentence shameful [press release], and the Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] called the trial a pretext [press release] for a broad crackdown on popular protests against corruption.
The detainment of anti-corruption activists has been a recurrent human rights issue in China. Xu was formally indicted five weeks ago, after Beijing prosecutors received a letter from Chinese police officials urging the government to bring charges against Xu in early December [JURIST reports]. Last August Chinese writer, lawyer and human rights advocate Yang Maodong, commonly known by his pen-name Guo Feixiong [HRIC profile], became the second leader, following Xu, of the New Citizens movement to be arrested [JURIST report] on suspicion of disrupting the peace.