BEIJING: Prominent Chinese activist Xu Zhiyong went on trial on Wednesday over his role in anti-corruption protests but defied the court by refusing to speak, his lawyer said, calling the proceedings a “piece of theater.”
Xu, founder of the New Citizens Movement, faces a five-year jail term on charges of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” for demonstrations featuring banners calling for asset disclosure by officials—seen as a key measure against graft.
Dozens of police, in uniform and plain clothes, surrounded the court in western Beijing, harassing reporters outside the building. Several Xu supporters said at least three protesters near the premises had been detained.
Xu’s lawyer Zhang Qingfang said he and his client had remained silent inside the court. “We don’t want to take part in a piece of theatre, we are not actors, we can’t act,” he said.
“The court tried to persuade Xu to speak . . . and spent 10 minutes trying to persuade the lawyers to speak,” Zhang added. “We will continue to remain silent.”
Xu is one of eight New Citizens Movement activists—including several businessmen and a lawyer—due to stand trial this week in what has been viewed as part of a government crackdown on dissent.
They are all almost certain to be found guilty by China’s politically controlled courts.
The trials come despite a much-publicized anti-corruption drive by China’s Communist party under Xi Jinping, and overseas rights groups have condemned the proceedings as “hypocritical.”
They may have been held separately just ahead of China’s busy Lunar New Year holiday to decrease the risk of protests outside the court, lawyers said.
Despite this, at least 20 supporters from across China gathered nearby for Xu’s hearing, with a group of around 10 unveiling a red banner calling for officials to disclose their assets—similar to the actions which led to Xu’s trial.