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Amid Crackdown, Chinese Rights Lawyer Goes on Trial

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A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who campaigned against official corruption went on trial Wednesday, as part of what critics say is an effort by Beijing to silence dissent.

Xu Zhiyong is the founder of the New Citizens Movement, a grassroots civil awareness group that urges Chinese officials to disclose their assets and pushes for education equality.

The 40-year-old was arrested in August and charged with "disturbing public order." He played a key part in organizing small meetings of activists and criticized the government online.

Police and apparently state-sponsored thugs prevented journalists from getting near the courthouse where Xu was being tried. Several foreign diplomats were also prevented from attending.

Still, some of Xu's supporters gathered outside the venue, including Zhu Jiaqi from Tianjin, who called the hearing unfair.



"The trial is a secret one. This is to prevent the citizens from knowing what is going on during the trial, and not to know the results. A result of such a trial will never be a fair one."



Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said his client refused to defend himself, staying silent as a way to protest what he considers an unfair hearing.



Zhang said "justice looks very unlikely" at the trial. He said the court rejected his application for five witnesses to testify, and has been "restricting" the potential witnesses over the past two days.

Xu will almost certainly be found guilty, since China's state-controlled courts almost never rule in favor of the defendant, especially in politically-motivated trials. If convicted, he faces up to several years in jail.

Six other members of the New Citizens Movement also are standing trial later this week. Three of the group's members 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, but Chinese officials have defended the campaign. On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry said foreign countries should not interfere with internal issues, calling Xu's case a "regular criminal case."

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