China is continuing the high-profile political trials of activists associated with the grassroots New Citizens Movement, which the government has cracked down on as part of its effort to crush its domestic critics.
Zhao Changqing and Hou Xin stood trial Thursday in Beijing. They are charged with "disturbing public order" by organizing small groups that called for education equality and for officials to disclose their assets.
International observers, including several foreign diplomats, were barred from attending the hearings. Journalists were also kept away by police and plain-clothed officers, who have harassed those trying to broadcast near the proceedings.
Zhao's lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong, called the trial "fundamentally illegal." But he says his client does not regret his advocacy work.
"He expressed that even after so many years of determined hard work, whether it's for the public disclosure of officials' assets or equal rights to education, and after already undergoing two criminal detentions, he regrets nothing"
The activists will almost certainly be found guilty, since China's state-controlled courts almost never rule in favor of the defendant, especially in politically-motivated cases. If convicted, they face up to five years in jail.
Zhao's trial was adjourned quickly on Thursday after the activist fired two of his attorneys, in what Zhang said was an attempt to delay the proceedings.
Hou, who was accused of unfurling an anti-corruption banner, pleaded not guilty. Her lawyer said his client told the court the action was a legitimate act of expression.
On Wednesday, New Citizens Movement founder Xu Zhiyong refused to defend himself in court, staying silent in protest of what he considers an unfair trial.
A total of seven New Citizens Movement members are standing trial this and next week. Three others were tried in December, though a verdict has not been delivered.
Although the group does support democracy and the rule of law, some of its ideals are at least similar to that of the stated goals of the Communist Party, which has also vowed to crack down on corruption.
Since coming to power last year, the party's chairman, President Xi Jinping, has launched an anti-graft campaign that has brought down several lower and mid-level officials accused of corruption.
But Beijing has reacted angrily to the notion of a citizen-led anti-corruption campaign, arresting at least 20 people who made public calls for officials to publicly disclose their assets.
The U.S. State Department has criticized the crackdown, prompting an angry reaction from Beijing. On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry said foreign countries should not interfere with its internal issues.
The state-controlled Global Times on Thursday said Xu is not being tried for his opinions, but because he "probably advocated his political views by 'gathering crowds' which 'disrupted public order.'"
The paper, which often reflects official viewpoints, dismissed attempts to "tarnish" China's international image, saying Beijing will not let the West have a "dominant say in its own internal affairs."