|Christl Leong |||Jun 19, 2014 04:30 PM EDT|
(Photo : Reuters / Siu Chiu) Activists rally for the reversal of Xu Zhiyong's sentence. Xu Zhiyong, one of the founders of the New Citizens Movement, was sentenced to four years for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order.”
Three Chinese activists were sentenced to prison on Thursday for campaigning for the disclosure of government officials' wealth.
Wei Zhongping, Liu Ping and Li Sihua, linked to the New Citizen's Movement, were detained early last year for charges of "illegal assembly" after they posted photos of themselves holding signs that read "Xi Jinping, immediately end dictatorship" and "Strongly urge officials to disclose their assets," which were widely circulated, according to Reuters.
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Just days before the sentencing, the charges were changed to more serious ones, giving their lawyers only two days prior notice to defend against the new charges. This is in violation of the legal requirement of at least three days' notice and caused the lawyers to be absent because of other court schedules, Amnesty.org reported.
"It isn't fair, it isn't just. The laws can just be bent however (the government) wants in politicized cases," said Liu Ping's lawyer.
Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were sentenced to 6 and a half years in prison for charges of "picking quarrels and creating a disturbance", as well as for "gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place and using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement."
Li Sihua was given a lighter sentence of three years for the crime of "picking quarrels and creating a disturbance."
Moreover, it was noted that Liu Ping was allegedly tortured during detainment and her mother and daughter were not allowed to attend Thursday's trial held in Yushui District Court in Jiangxi province.
Amnesty International researcher William Nee condemned the incident and described the charges as "preposterous."
"Having a small private gathering and holding a banner in a lobby entrance demanding financial transparency from officials should not in any way constitute 'picking quarrels' and 'illegal assembly',"
Si said that the three could always file an appeal but added that he highly doubted that it would be successful.
In 2012, President Xi Jinping had launched an anti-corruption campaign. Encouraged by this, the New Citizens Movement increased advocacy efforts for transparency of wealth of government to effect changes within the system.
However, recent crackdowns on grassroots activism reveal the limitations of Xi's campaign, UCA News reported. Although a few low level officials have been urged to disclose their assets, public discussion of the wealth of senior officials is still taboo.
Xu Zhiyong, a prominent lawyer and co-founder of the New Citizens Movement, was arrested last July for "gathering crowds to disrupt public order." In January, he was sentenced to serve four years in prison.
Meanwhile, the activist group had written in its website, "This is a crazy retaliation, a shameless retaliation, which has no connection with the law, the legal system or rule of law. This is not just a retaliation against Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua but retaliates against and dishonors the rights of citizens."
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