BEIJING – The trial of a Chinese activist who has led a grassroots campaign demanding a fairer society and official accountability to better fight corruption started in Beijing on Wednesday, while police blocked journalists and his supporters from getting near the court.
The case against legal scholar and founder of the New Citizens movement Xu Zhiyong is the centerpiece of a wide crackdown by Beijing apparently aimed at decimating the nascent, loose social force before it can gain enough momentum to contest the Communist Party's rule.
Since April 2013, state authorities have detained about 17 members linked to the movement and put three on trial in southeastern province of Jiangxi in late 2013. No verdict has been issued for the Jiangxi trials.
Wednesday's trial against Xu opens the second round of prosecutions. At least six other activists will appear in court Thursday and Friday in Beijing, and political and legal observers believe all will be found guilty and jailed for several years.
Xu stood trial behind closed doors at a Beijing court on charge of disrupting public order. The charge stems from small protests authorities say he helped organize to call for education equality or the disclosure of public officials' assets to curb corruption.
More than a dozen diplomats from the U.S., European Union, Canada and Australia turned up to attend the trial but were not allowed in the courtroom on the grounds that the courtroom was too small to accommodate them and that foreign nationals have no place in a case against a Chinese national, according to the diplomats.
Police stationed around the courthouse and at the nearest subway station were preventing reporters and supporters from getting near.
The prosecutions against Xu and his followers are underlining Beijing's hostility toward any social force outside its controls, even if the group has picked issues sanctioned by the state and on purpose avoided any organization because of the party's zero tolerance of any independent organization.