Beijing rejects appeal of citizens movement founder, upholds guilty verdict and 4-year prison

A Beijing high court on Friday upheld a guilty verdict against the founder of a Chinese grassroots movement that promoted clean governance.

The Beijing Supreme People's High Court ruled that the trial court was proper in finding Xu Zhiyong guilty of gathering crowds to disturb public order and sentencing him to four years in prison.

China observers and rights advocates say the persecution against Xu is political because Beijing is clamping down on anything that could grow into a political force, even though the demands of Xu's loosely knit New Citizens group are in line with the government's stated goals, such as curbing corruption and providing equal education opportunities.

Xu's offense largely stemmed from several rallies he organized in front of the Chinese Ministry of Education to demand equal education rights.

Beijing this week also started to try several members of the New Citizens movement on the same charge with verdicts to be announced later. Guilty verdicts are expected.

Members and supporters of the movement on Friday condemned the persecutions.

"Those guilty are not Xu Zhiyong or citizens like Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, Zhang Baocheng or Li Wei, but all those judges and decision makers," a written statement posted to the movement's website read. "It is the judges and decision makers who have insulted the law and the good conscience. Now they have judged citizens, but history will judge them."

New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged Beijing to drop the charges.

"If Chinese authorities insist that these people's peaceful civic activism constitutes a threat to public order, it's hard to tell what doesn't," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "The selective persecution of those who are doing nothing more than trying to improve governance through legal means has to stop now."