Today the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a leading advocate of the New Citizens Movement, to four years’ imprisonment for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” one year short of the maximum penalty for the charge.
Xu was tried last Wednesday, January 22, in the first of a series of trials this month of citizen activists who have openly called for disclosure of officials’ assets as a way to fight corruption. Xu was detained on July 16, 2013, after being subjected to four months of house arrest that had begun on April 12.
“The trial and conviction of Xu Zhiyong sends a dangerous message to other moderate voices peacefully pressing for needed social and political reforms and risks escalating already widespread social conflict,” said Sharon Hom, Executive of Human Rights in China.
“Xu’s case and other cases involving citizen actions this week raise serious questions about the Chinese authorities’ respect for rights protected by domestic and international human rights law, including freedom of expression and assembly.”
Xu, 40, is a former lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and a deputy of Beijing’s Haidian District’s Thirteenth and Fourteenth People’s Congresses. He has in recent years called for equal access to education and asset transparency, and initiated a campaign to appeal to the public to assume the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The latter effort has gathered widening support in what has come to be known as the New Citizens Movement.
“What the New Citizens Movement advocates is for each and every Chinese national to act and behave as a citizen, to accept our roles as citizens and masters of our country—and not to act as feudal subjects, remain complacent, accept mob rule or a position as an underclass. To take seriously the rights which come with citizenship, those written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and China’s Constitution: to treat these sacred rights—to vote, to freedom of speech and religion—as more than an everlasting IOU,” said Xu in his final statement at trial before he was cut off by the court. (Click here for an English translation of the full text of Xu’s final statement.)
Xu Zhiyong was born in Minquan County, Henan Province, in 1973. He earned his Bachelor of Law and Master of Law degrees at Lanzhou University, and a doctorate from Peking University Law School. Among his most well-known defense activities is his successful petition, with Yu Jiang and constitutional scholar Teng Biao, to abolish the custody and forced repatriation procedure in 2003, after Sun Zhigang, a 27-year-old university student, was beaten to death while in police custody that same year for not carrying a resident permit or temporary living permit.
In October 2003, Xu, along with Yu Jiang, Zhang Xingshui, and Teng Biao, founded Gongmeng, a public interest organization that provided legal consultation and assistance to the public. Also known as Open Constitution Initiative (OCI), Gongmeng's mission was to advance rule of law and social justice in China and promote civil rights defense activities. Gongmeng was shut down by the government in 2009.