Prominent Chinese legal activist Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years’ jail on Sunday for his role in organising protests, a court said, furthering a crackdown on a rights movement he championed.
Xu is among 10 activists facing trial for disrupting public order — a charge that carries a maximum five-year sentence — after they held banners in public pressuring authorities to disclose their assets as a check against corruption.
The 40-year-old lawyer was a central figure in the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists who organised street protests and dinner discussions on causes from educational equality to official corruption.
Amnesty International described the verdict as “shameful”.
“The Chinese authorities have once again opted for the rule of fear over the rule of law,” Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Xu was the first to be sentenced in the case and the other activists are almost certain to be found guilty by China’s politically controlled courts.
His jailing comes as new leaders under President Xi Jinping have also carried out a high-profile campaign against graft, warning it could destroy the ruling Communist party.
But the authorities fear any organised dissent that could undermine their control.
A Beijing intermediate court “sentenced Xu Zhiyong to four years in jail” after finding him guilty of “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”, it announced on an official account on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Xu’s lawyer Zhang Qingfang criticised the process as “nothing but a show” in which “the outcome was decided a long time ago”.