HONG KONG, China – Xu Zhiyong, the human rights activist known as the leader of the New Citizens’ Movement, is expected to stand trial in China.
Mr. Xu believes he will most likely be convicted due to the Communist Party’s control of the courts, and if convicted, Xu Zhiyong could face a maximum sentence of five years.
A former law professor at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunication, Mr. Xu first became a prominent international figure when he provided legal aid to families after a tainted milk formula scandal in China.
Xu Zhiyong, age 40, is one of the founders of the New Citizens’ Movement, along with fellow former law professor Teng Biao. The two founded the movement with the goals of influencing the Communist Party to be more transparent regarding the wealth of its officials and pushing for equal rights to education.
The New Citizens’ Movement received attention last year when advocates protested across China demanding that the Communist Party have its officials publically disclose their wealth, arrange for the release of any political prisoners and let Chinese citizens play a larger part in their government.
Following the protests, the Communist party arrested approximately 20 members of the grassroots organization, many of which are currently waiting to be tried. To be more specific, though a few of those arrested have already been released from prison, three stood trial at the end of last year and are now waiting for verdicts.
According to Mr. Teng, approximately 200 individuals in affiliation with the movement or those who have identified themselves as “citizens” have been arrested and many of these individuals could be imprisoned for three to five years if convicted.
Xu Zhiyong was charged in December with “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” The charge detailed an accusation of organizing protests in Beijing, specifically protests for equal schooling for rural and urban children in China.
Many of Mr. Xu’s supporters have said that his trial will demonstrate President Xi Jinping’s and the Communist Party’s willpower to rid the government of any kind of opposition to their power.
In fact, Xu Zhiyong’s lawyer Zhang Qingfang stated to The New York Times that as the Communist Party controls the country’s courts, defendants are very rarely found innocent. Late last week Mr. Zhang was unsuccessful in his attempt to prove to court officials that there were flaws in the case and the charges against his client.
In regard to the trial, Mr. Zhang explained last week that Mr. Xu will not comment or act as a a witness during the prosecution’s part of proceedings. On another note, during the defense’s proceedings, Mr. Zhang said it is likely that his team will again contest the basis of the charges.
However, fellow activist Mr. Teng expressed his optimism about future change in China despite Mr. Xu’s impending trial and the increase in arrests of activists. Mr. Teng stated that Xu Zhiyong wanted the movement to have no specific leader so that it could continue if he was arrested.
Mr. Teng also said to The Guardian that Xu Zhiyong “wanted to be well known so that [going to prison]would mean something to others.” No matter the outcome in this trial, it is still possible for the New Citizens’ Movement to make a difference in China.
Xu Zhiyong’s trial could be the beginning of many trials for activists in China, but the advocates of the New Citizens’ Movement will continue to work towards their purpose.
– Julie Guacci