Chinese lawyer Xu Zhiyong has gone on trial in Beijing. The prominent citizens' rights advocate is accused of disrupting public order for his part in backing pro-education and anti-corruption protests.
Hundreds of police cordoned off the courthouse in the Chinese capital on Wednesday as supporters and petitioners for Xu, as well as journalists, were turned away. A group of foreign diplomats, including representatives from the European Union and United States, tried unsuccessfully to attend the proceedings.
The charges against Xu, 40, are related to his support for protests that demanded the disclosure of public officials' assets and education equality, according to a copy of the indictment posted online. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Supporters of Xu and international rights groups say the trial is the centerpiece for the Chinese government's crackdown on the New Citizens' Movement. The group, which Xu co-founded with other lawyers, is often charged with gathering crowds and disrupting public order.
Further activist arrests
Xu's July detention was one of dozens of arrests last year in connection with the activities of the New Citizens' Movement.
At least six other people – Zhao Changqing, Ding Jiaxi, Li Wei, Yuan Dong, Hou Xin and Zhang Baocheng – are set to go on trial later this week. Facing the same charges as Xu, the six are believed to be more active members of the New Citizens' Movement.
The US State Department has urged Xu be released, saying the case against him is retribution for his social activism.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected those claims in a regular briefing Tuesday saying Xu's trial is a "regular criminal case" being handled in accordance with Chinese law, adding that foreign countries should not interfere.
dr/lw (dpa, AP)