The activists were among more than a dozen detained in recent
months for their anti-corruption activism. Rights groups say the
crackdown on the group throws into sharp relief the limits of
President Xi Jinping's campaign against graft.
Despite a few pilot schemes for low level officials to disclose
their assets, any public discussion of the wealth of senior leaders
remains strictly off limits.
Graft oils the wheels of China's government and probes into Party
elites have revealed billions of dollars in undisclosed assets,
often held by trusted friends or family members.
Two of the activists, Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping, were sentenced to
6-1/2 years in prison for using a cult to damage law enforcement,
gathering a mob to disturb order in public places, and picking
quarrels and provoking disputes.
"It isn't fair, it isn't just," said Si Weijiang, Liu's lawyer,
reached by phone. "The laws can just be bent however (the
government) wants in politicized cases."
Another activist, Li Sihua, was sentenced to three years in prison,
also for picking quarrels and provoking disputes.
The sentences were handed down on Thursday by a court in the poor
central province of Jiangxi. Court officials could not be reached
Human rights groups condemned the judgment. In a statement, Amnesty
International called the charges "preposterous".
"Having a small private gathering and holding a banner in a lobby
entrance demanding financial transparency from officials should not
in any way constitute 'picking quarrels' and 'illegal assembly',"
said William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty, according to the
Si said it was up to the activists to decide whether they would
appeal, but added he didn't believe an appeal would be successful or
have any meaning.
The activists, encouraged by Xi's anti-corruption campaign, took
photographs of themselves holding banners and placards that read
"Strongly urge officials to disclose their assets" and "Xi Jinping,
immediately end dictatorship".
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The photos were widely circulated online.
"What was written on the signs is simply a suggestion to the
country's new leaders. It's completely within the scope of freedom
of expression that's within our country's constitution," Si said.
The activists were part of a group called the New Citizens Movement,
which advocates for officials to disclose their wealth and favors
working within the system to create change. Its well-known founder,
Xu Zhiyong, was sentenced in January to four years in prison,
sparking criticism from the United States, European Union and rights
"This is a crazy retaliation, a shameless retaliation, which has no
connection with the law, the legal system or rule of law," the New
Citizens Movement said in a statement on its website. "This is not
just a retaliation against Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua but
retaliates against and dishonors the rights of citizens."
Prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who had represented
members of the New Citizens Movement, was detained last month after
he attended a meeting in a private home to commemorate the
anniversary of the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests at
Tiananmen Square in 1989. Pu's case is ongoing.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell; Editing by Jeremy
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