BEIJING — China is continuing to hold high profile trials of anti-corruption activists this week. On Thursday, court proceedings began for another member of what is called the "New Citizens Movement", a grassroots group that is calling on high-ranking officials to disclose their assets and advocating rule of law.
The trial of Chinese dissident Zhao Changqing ended quickly on Thursday as he dismissed both of his lawyers. Members of the New Citizens Movement say the trials against them are a mockery of the legal process.
Zhao's lawyer Zhang Xuezhong said his client's decision to dismiss him is a strategy aimed at delaying the proceedings until after the New Year holiday to try to draw more attention to the case.
Zhang said that since there were so many serious irregularities in the way the courts are handling the cases, Zhao dismissed his lawyer to keep the court from quickly wrapping up the case. He said that now the court will have to give him 15 days to find a new lawyer.
Members of the group argue that by gathering to raise awareness of, and boost support for, their causes they were only exercising their legal right to freedom of expression and assembly.
In addition to Zhao, another member of the group Hou Xin was also tried separately on Thursday. She also maintained her innocence during the hearing.
Most of the accused have so far pleaded not guilty in court. One member of the group, a well-known businessman Wang Gongquan was released Wednesday after the court said he confessed to planning and inciting a mob to disturb public order.
Members of the New Citizens Movement, including its founder Xu Zhiyong have been accused of orchestrating five rallies in Beijing last year. Dozens have been taken into custody across the country and at least 10 are on trial in the capital.
Xu Zhiyong remained silent during his hearing on Wednesday and only spoke at the end of the proceedings when he tried to deliver a final statement.
Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said that although his client’s statement was expected to last 50 minutes, court officials cut him off 10 minutes after he began.
Zhang said that while his concluding remarks were originally divided into nine parts, Xu was cut off when he got to the second part about assets disclosure. The court said it did not want to hear what he was saying and that it had no relevance to the case.
In his concluding remarks, Xu asked why China could not set up regulations for assets disclosure when so many other countries have done so? He asked. "What are you afraid of?"
He also argued that his case was not about free speech or public order but whether Chinese authorities recognize a citizen's constitutional rights.
Zhang said the court was more humane in some ways, urging Xu, a 40 year-old legal scholar, to speak in his defense during the trial rather than remain silent.
Zhang said that he and his client are still not satisfied, especially because of the big scale irregularities in the trial, including handling the defendants in the same case separately and not permitting all of the witnesses to appear in court.
Despite their alleged crimes of participating in and organizing the same events, members of the New Citizens Movement are being tried separately. Their lawyers say that is a violation of Chinese legal procedure.
Five other activists are scheduled to stand trial Beijing and the southern city of Guangzhou on Friday and Monday.