China: Anti-corruption activists on trial
June 25, 2014, 6:35 am

Two Chinese anti-corruption activists went on trial under heavy security Tuesday, in Beijing’s latest strike against a burgeoning rights movement.

Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei appeared at a court in Beijing’s Haidian district, their lawyers said. Scores of uniformed and plain-clothes police were deployed in various locations around the building, with at least 20 police vehicles.

Both men are members of the New Citizens Movement, a loose-knit network of activists whose dinner discussions and small-scale protests calling for official disclosure of assets have drawn the anger of the authorities in Beijing.

China’s ruling Communist Party is in the midst of a highly-publicised anti-corruption campaign, which President Xi Jinping has pledged will target both high-ranking “tigers” and low-level “flies” in the face of public anger over the issue.

But the party has cracked down harshly on independent activists who have the same goals, viewing organised anti-corruption protests as a challenge to its rule.

Li’s lawyer Jiang Yuanmin said that while Beijing has touted its anti-graft efforts, the activists were being targeted by authorities who wish to keep their wealth hidden from public view.

“His behaviour does not constitute a crime,” he said of his client. “People like Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei, they just want government officials to report their assets.

“This goes against the interests of a vast majority of officials,” he added. “So the government is afraid.”

The trial is likely to take at least two days, Jiang said, as the court was not allowing the defence to call any witnesses and Ding’s lawyer refused to answer any of the court’s questions in protest.

Ding, 46, is a well-known human rights lawyer. Li, 42, was unemployed at the time of his arrest last May.

A third member of the movement, Zhao Changqing, is expected to go on trial Thursday. Zhao was a student leader during the 1989 pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square and previously served eight years in jail.

– ‘They are terrified’ –

The trials come three months after a Beijing court pronounced Xu Zhiyong, a founding member of the New Citizens Movement, guilty of “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”.

The 40-year-old Xu, a prominent legal activist, was sentenced to four years in jail.

Ding, Li and Zhao face similar charges and appeared in court in January. But the three men dismissed their lawyers in protest at the accusations against them, a move which triggered a delay to their trials.

As at previous trials of New Citizens Movement members, the heavy police presence deterred any organised demonstrations in support of the defendants.

Officers were checking IDs of passers-by outside the courthouse in northwest Beijing, and journalists were barred from approaching the building or lingering outside.

As the proceedings got underway, one protester yelled “Ding Jiaxi is innocent!” before quickly being bundled off by police, according to a European diplomat who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the trial.

In an open letter published Sunday by the human rights website China Change, Ding revealed that he had been threatened and abused by his interrogators in a process reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, China’s decade of political and cultural upheaval beginning in the mid-1960s.

“They are terrified of what we did,” Ding wrote. “They want to try us in order to warn the others. They want to tell the Chinese people, people living in China, that it is a crime to demand that officials disclose their assets.”

“In essence, this is anti anti-corruption,” he wrote.

UPDATE 10/04/14: Sui Muqing and Jiang Yuanmin, Ding and Li’s lawyers, walked out of the trial and denounced it as not in conformity with Chinese law after the court refused to provide original (as opposed to photocopied) evidence of the trial. However, it appears that unlike in January, when Ding and Li replaced their lawyers to delay the trial, Sui and Jiang will continue to represent the accused.

See also:

UPDATE 18/04/2014:
UPDATE 18/06/2014: