Three Chinese activists charged for ‘illegal assembly’

Three Chinese activists who have been campaigning against corruption and calling for officials to disclose their assets were on Monday put on trial, in a case highlighting the new leadership’s unease at growing civil society activism even as it has pledged to crack down on rampant corruption.

The three activists — Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua — hail from Xinyu, a town in southern Jiangxi province, where they have been campaigning for greater transparency in government.

Even at the start of Monday’s trial, their lawyers expressed concerns that the three activists would be denied a fair hearing. Zhang Xuezhong, a lawyer representing Ms. Liu, said defence teams were prevented from entering the court at the start of the proceedings, though the court subsequently allowed them in. “All three are pleading not guilty”, Mr. Zhang told Reuters.

The three have been charged with “illegal assembly”, and can face a maximum sentence of 15 years. The charge related to a campaign in which the three activists posed for photographs holding up banners calling for officials to disclose their assets.

The case is being seen by Chinese civil society as a barometer of how the new leadership will deal with calls for reform.

While the start of Xi Jinping’s term — which began in March — had given some encouragement to those pushing for reform after the new President pledged to crack down on both “tigers and flies” in government and reduce graft, in recent months more than a dozen anti-corruption activists have been detained.

Ms. Liu, an activist from Xinyu, has rejected charges that she violated the law. In 2011, Ms. Liu made an unsuccessful attempt to contest local-level elections in Xinyu, standing as an independent candidate. In China’s one-party state, direct elections are allowed only at the lowest levels of government in the cities, villages and townships.

Ms. Liu’s campaign generated much attention — particularly on Chinese social media websites, through which she garnered a wide following — before authorities threatened her and forced her to withdraw her candidacy.

In an interview with The Hindu following her failed campaign, Ms. Liu said she did not have “grand ambitions” but only wanted to create awareness. “Our Constitution says we have a universal right to participate in government. I want us to achieve that right,” she said.

Last year, she was abducted by local officials from Xinyu when she visited Beijing during the Parliament session.

She was blindfolded, thrown into a car, and illegally imprisoned for two weeks, during which she was beaten, and denied food and water. Ironically, Ms. Liu’s visit to Beijing had coincided with a move by the National People’s Congress, or Parliament, to revise the criminal procedure law to ban illegal detentions.

Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the trial of the three activists had demonstrated the government’s wariness towards civil society movements.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 10:17:51 AM |

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