Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing-based legal scholar, was detained earlier this year after founding a nationwide group called the “New Citizens’ Movement” which campaigns for civil rights and against corruption
By Tom Phillips, Shanghai
The founder of a civil-rights group who has called on “courageous” Chinese citizens to “stand up” for democracy and freedom could face trial within weeks after he was formally charged by police.
Xu Zhiyong, a legal scholar and activist who founded the “New Citizens’ Movement” in 2012, was detained in July on charges of “disturbing public order”.
Beijing police recently claimed his offences included helping to organise groups that placed banners in public areas calling on government officials to publish their personal accounts.
Supporters say the charges are politically motivated and an attempt to destroy any form of coordinated opposition to Communist Party rule.
On Friday, Dr Xu’s lawyer confirmed that police had formally charged him.
“All I can say is that it [the trial] will be very quick, within a month,” Zhang Qingfang, the lawyer, said.
Dr Xu is now one of at least 16 Chinese activists facing trial because of their links to the New Citizens’ Movement, a nationwide coalition of lawyers, academics and petitioners. Three activists linked to the movement went on trial last week in Jiangxi province in the first of what is expected to be a series of trials. They are likely to be sentenced in the coming days.
Hu Jia, a veteran activist, told The Telegraph he believed Beijing would attempt to hide the trials from the world by holding them over the Christmas period.
“The authorities have always tried to reduce international attention on trials like this as much as possible,” said Mr Hu, predicting that the trials would be held between December 20 and January 8.
China’s leaders hoped Dr Xu’s trial would serve as “a deterrence, a warning” to others who publicly opposed the Communist Party, Mr Hu added.
Reports that Dr Xu had been formally charged came four days after a Shanghai law professor who had represented members of the New Citizens’ Movement claimed he had been sacked for criticising Xi Jinping, the president.
Zhang Xuezhong, an outspoken lawyer from Shanghai’s East China University of Political Science and Law, said university officials had told him his anti-government writings had “violated the teaching code”.
In a recent interview, Professor Zhang said Xi Jinping hoped to force the New Citizens’ Movement and other opposition groups into extinction.
“The Party wants to send a signal or threat to the people: ‘You should keep silent. You must not do anything to offend the government.’” On Monday, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said Washington was “deeply concerned” at how China continued to imprison activists, including Xu Zhiyong, “for peacefully exercising their universal right to freedom of expression.” Up to two-dozen foreign correspondents from The New York Times and Bloomberg are also currently facing expulsion from China.