A Beijing court has sentenced a legal scholar and founder of a social movement to four years in jail for disrupting order in public places, in a case that the U.S. government and other critics say is retribution against his push to fight corruption and create equal educational opportunities.

Amid tight security Sunday , the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court handed down the verdict against Xu Zhiyong, founder of the loosely knit New Citizens movement.

Xu's conviction has been expected, as his prosecution is the centerpiece of a crackdown by the ruling Communist Party on grassroots movements that might gain momentum to threaten its rule.

Several more activists have stood trials or are scheduled to appear in court — all on the same charge of disrupting public order.