The trial of Zhao Changqing, a veteran Chinese dissident, was
adjourned after he dismissed his two lawyers in a move that would
help delay his case, one of his lawyers, Zhang Xuezhong, told
Reuters by telephone.
China's government has waged a 10-month drive against the "New
Citizens' Movement" of which Zhao was a member. The group advocates
working within the system to press for change, including urging
officials to reveal their assets.
Zhao initiated dinner gatherings in Beijing where citizens discussed
the disclosure campaign. He is charged with "gathering a crowd to
disturb public order", an offence punishable by up to five years in
Zhao told a Beijing courtroom that he was not guilty of any crime,
"He said that all his actions, including promoting the asset
disclosure of officials, promoting equal access to education in
China and pursuing the realisation of constitutional democracy are
completely legitimate and legal, and in keeping with the basic
principles of modern civilisation," Zhang said.
"He felt that the court was being totally unjust and that their
allegations were unfair."
Zhao would get 15 days to select two new lawyers. "Only in this way
can he avoid a hasty court trial that would be wrapped up before the
Chinese New Year," Zhang said.
"If you delay the time a little, there's always the opportunity that
there might be a change."
Zhao has been jailed three times for pro-democracy activities,
including a three-month sentence for his involvement in the June 4,
1989, protests in Tiananmen Square.
The campaign against the movement exposes the ambivalence in
Beijing's bid to root out pervasive corruption, even as President Xi
Jinping leads a new campaign to tackle graft.
China has detained at least 20 activists involved in pressing for
asset disclosure, although not all are from the New Citizens'
Another activist, Hou Xin, stood trial in Beijing on Thursday
afternoon. Hou was one of four activists who unfurled a banner in
Beijing last year urging officials to disclose their assets.
Hou, who has been released on bail, is also charged with "gathering
a crowd to disturb public order", her lawyer, Ding Xikui, told
"She defended herself, (saying) she believes she's innocent," Ding
said. "She expressed her views — that this is a normal and
legitimate expression and not a crime."
Prominent rights advocate Xu Zhiyong, who founded the New Citizens'
Movement, went on trial on Wednesday, but his lawyer said he refused
to offer any defence and called the court unjust.
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Diplomats said they were shut out of Zhao's trial, which was
surrounded by heavy security. Police hauled a dozen petitioners away
from the courthouse and fended off foreign reporters.
Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador to China, said in a statement he was
concerned that the trial of Xu and other activists was "retribution
for their public campaigns to expose official corruption and for the
peaceful expression of their views".
"The United States government calls on Chinese authorities to
release Xu and other political prisoners immediately," Locke added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, asked about the foreign
criticism of the trial, repeated that Xu was being tried in
accordance with the law, and that China "resolutely opposed" foreign
The Global Times, a popular tabloid owned by Chinese Communist Party
mouthpiece the People's Daily, said China should not be "overly
sensitive" about the West's special attention to dissidents and
"But the Chinese people will never allow the attitudes of external
forces to guide the country's attitude in its internal affairs," it
said in a comment.
On its microblog account, the Beijing No.1 Intermediate Court said
Wang Gongquan, a venture capitalist and close friend of Xu's who was
arrested last October, had confessed to "planning and inciting a mob
to disturb public order" together with Xu.
But Zhang Qingfang, Xu's lawyer, said the posting was a "complete
distortion of facts".
Five more activists will stand trial in Beijing and the southern
city of Guangzhou on Friday and Monday. Three went on trial in
December and face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.
On Wednesday, Xu attempted to read a closing statement to the court,
but was cut short by the judge. In the statement, he defended the
New Citizens' Movement.
"More than 137 countries and territories around the world currently
have systems in place for officials to declare assets, so why can't
China? What exactly is it these 'public servants' fear so much?" he
(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan and Michael Martina;
by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)
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