UK & World News
Amnesty Fears Over Trial Of Chinese Lawyer
A prominent Chinese lawyer is standing trial in Beijing charged with "gathering people to disturb order in a public place".
Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer and a lecturer at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications, was arrested in July last year and has been in custody at Beijing's Number 3 Detention Centre since then.
Among Mr Xu's alleged crimes are charges including "making a racket" and "attracting onlookers".
Security around the Number 1 Intermediate Court in the far west of the Chinese capital has been extremely tight.
Scores of uniformed and plain-clothed security officials circled the courthouse.
Foreign news organisations, including Sky News, were bundled away as they tried to film despite being allowed to cover the trial from outside court.
Mr Xu, 41, is one of the founders of an organisation called the New Citizens Movement.
In May 2012, he wrote an online article entitled China Needs A New Citizens' Movement. Its aim was to promote government transparency and expose corruption.
It attracted a following around China large enough to raise concerns among the Communist leadership. A number of other lawyers, academics and known activists put their name to it. Many of them have also been detained.
The central plank of the New Citizens Movement's online manifesto is the desire to "utter farewell to authoritarianism" within the "ancient nation" of China.
Mr Xu's trial, which is expected to last just a day, is closed to foreign media. There will be no opportunity to witness proceedings or see evidence presented to the court.
In a statement, Amnesty International said: "We consider Xu Zhiyong to be a prisoner of conscience and he should be released immediately and unconditionally.
"Anything less would make a mockery of the Chinese government's ongoing anti-corruption efforts.
"Instead of President Xi Jinping's promised clamp-down on corruption, we are seeing a crackdown against those that want to expose it.
"The persecution of activists associated with the New Citizens Movement has to end."
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office in March 2013, a government campaign against official corruption has run in parallel with a concerted effort to silence those who try to expose corruption or who criticises the authorities.
In August last year, a month after he was arrested, Mr Xu managed to record a video from behind bars. It was smuggled out of the jail and posted online.
Handcuffed, he speaks for just over a minute in Chinese, with a defiant message.
"No matter how this society is, how defeated or how absurd it is, this society needs brave citizens who can stand up and hold fast to their beliefs; who can take their rights, responsibilities and their dreams seriously," he said.
"I'm proud to put the word 'citizen' before my name, and I hope everyone does the same. Put the word 'citizen' before your name.
"Let us unite, and work together to make our rights as citizens matter, to make our identities as citizens matter - working together to promote democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice in our country."
The Chinese authorities remain extremely sensitive about any forms of discontent or large gatherings which criticise authority. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the student uprising and subsequent massacre by the Chinese military in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
The Chinese government claims the tighter online restrictions against criticism are in place to prevent the "spreading of rumours and bias against China".
In an interview with Sky News last week, the Chinese ambassador defended his government's stance on internet freedoms.
"What we are concerned about is healthy content and whether it is in the interest of improving mutual understanding between China and the world." Ambassador Liu Xiaoming told Sky's Jeff Randall.
Mr Xu has featured in an edition of Mr Fashion magazine, China's version of Esquire.
If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail.
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