A Chinese court has given jail terms of up to six and a half years to three activists who were part of a group urging government officials to disclose their assets.
The sentences handed down by a court in the central province of Jiangxi were the harshest yet in Beijing's year-long crackdown on the New Citizens Movement.
Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were given six and a half years in jail after being found guilty of "picking fights," "disrupting public order" and "using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement." Li Sihua was given three years in jail for "disrupting public order."
That information came from Si Weijiang, a lawyer for Liu Ping, who called the verdicts "not fair."
"The laws can just be bent however [the authorities] want to. There is no law in politicized cases,” said Si.
William Nee, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International, told VOA the charges against the activists are "preposterous."
"It's very worrying. We don't think they should have even been tried to begin with and that they're prisoners of conscience, so to get six and a half years or three years [in jail] is really just an outrageous affair," said Nee.
China has arrested about a dozen members of the New Citizens Movement, a loosely organized group that holds occasional dinner meetings and debates focused on corruption and civil rights.
Nee said Beijing views the group as a threat because it focuses on issues that have widespread public support. He also said any attempt to portray the group as an "evil cult" is disingenuous.
"It certainly shouldn't be used against the New Citizens Movement, which is simply asking for China to obey its own constitution, to promote social justice in terms of rural children and access to education in cities or to have Chinese officials declare their assets as most other officials in other countries do," said Nee.
In April, the group's founder, attorney and university lecturer Xu Zhiyong, was sentenced to four years in jail. Several others have been given jail terms in the past year.
The crackdown comes even as Xi Jinping, the head of China's Communist Party, carries out a campaign to end widespread official corruption.