A Chinese court has sentenced prominent legal activist Xu Zhiyong to four years' imprisonment for helping organize protests. The move has drawn international condemnation.
The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court on Sunday found Xu Zhiyong guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order," it said on its microblog.
Xu, a lawyer, was among 10 activists on trial for disrupting public order after staging a rally in which banners were displayed calling on authorities to disclose their assets.
The 40-year-old Zu is the founder of the New Citizens Movement, a loose activist network that has campaigned for the rights of children in rural areas to be educated in cities and against official corruption.
Speaking after the verdict was handed down, Xu told reporters that the process was "very unfair."
His lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said that Xu had told the court "that the last shred of dignity of China's rule of law was destroyed today."
The Chinese government has waged a 10-month drive against the New Citizens Movement as part of a broader crackdown on dissent since last spring.
Sunday's verdict has drawn widespread criticism, with US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying in a statement that the US was "deeply disappointed," and Amnesty International describing the ruling as a travesty.
Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, said the verdict was "shameful but sadly predictable."
"The Chinese authorities have once again opted for the rule of fear over the rule of law," she said.
"The persecution of those associated with the New Citizens Movement demonstrates how fearful the Chinese leadership are of public calls for change," she added, and called for Xu's "immediate and unconditional" release.
Human Rights Watch said Xu's conviction made "a mockery" of Chinese president Xi Jinping's crusade against corruption.
Xu's trial was the most high-profile legal proceeding against a dissident in China since 2009, when Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was put on trial for subversion for his involvement in a petition urging the overthrow of one-party rule. Liu was jailed for 11 years.
tj/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)