BEIJING (AP) — Four members of a grassroots movement seeking to curb corruption among Chinese officials and boost fairness in education stood trial on charges of disrupting public order on Monday, a day after the group's founder was sentenced to prison.
The prosecutions of members of the New Citizens Movement reflect the leadership's wariness of any group that could generate enough momentum to challenge its one-party rule.
Group founder and legal scholar Xu Zhiyong was sentenced Sunday to four years in prison on the charge of disturbing order in public places. Xu's fledgling campaign became a target after it inspired people across the country to gather for dinner parties to discuss social issues and occasionally to unfurl banners in public places in small rallies.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters Monday that Xu's case "demonstrates that China has rule of law and judicial independence."
The four who appeared in court Monday were Zhang Baocheng, Ding Jiaxi, Li Wei and Yuan Dong. Lawyers for the first three men said they had been dismissed from the cases, meaning that further proceedings in the trials are delayed for 15 days. The fourth lawyer could not immediately be reached.
Another lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong, said last week that the lawyers representing most New Citizens activists had agreed on a strategy of requesting new defense lawyers to drag out the process until after the Chinese New Year in the hope that the cases could get more public attention and the political climate may become more favorable.
Before his dismissal, Zhang's lawyer Chen Jiangang said the defendants had "no chance to express their views, their opinions" and called the court process "a blatant violation of the rule of law."
The prosecutions come amid the Chinese leadership's broader crackdown over the past year on dissent, including the silencing and detentions of influential bloggers and advocates for minority rights in Tibetan and Muslim Uighur areas.
On Sunday night, a well-known Beijing-based activist and a supporter of the New Citizens movement, Hu Jia, was taken away by police on suspicion of causing disturbances, his lawyer Mo Shaoping said.