A Beijing court upheld a four-year long jail sentence handed down to Xu Zhiyong, a prominent Chinese activist, on charges of disturbing the public order, news reports said Friday, citing local media.
Xu’s jail term was upheld by the Beijing Municipal High People's Court on charges that he gathered a crowd to urge Chinese officials to disclose their assets. Xu had helped form the New Citizens’ Movement, a group of activists seeking to promote democracy, rule of law and greater transparency on assets owned by the country's politicians, until he was arrested in January.
"This ridiculous judgment cannot hold back the tide of human progress," Xu told the court after the verdict was read out, Reuters reported, citing his lawyers. "The haze of the communist dictatorship must eventually lift and the light of freedom, fairness, justice and love will eventually fill China.”
The U.S. had also reportedly said that it was “deeply disappointed” with the initial verdict and Amnesty International, a New York-based human rights organization, called the rejection of Xu's appeal, "an affront to justice," according to the Associated Press, or AP.
“As the leading member, Xu Zhiyong's actions constituted a criminal act of gathering a crowd to disturb public order and should be punished according to the law," the court reportedly said in the verdict, according to Reuters.
Of the 20 activists detained by China in January, three members of the New Citizens' Movement are currently on trial. Earlier this week, Chinese authorities also arrested several supporters of the movement on the same charges because the movement’s followers said that policy makers had “insulted the law and good conscience.”
The ruling was "a very bad sign in terms of the willingness of the Chinese authorities to implement their commitments to fight corruption and to more transparency," Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary at the European Union delegation to China, said, according to Reuters.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said, according to AP: "If Chinese authorities insist that these people's peaceful civic activism constitutes a threat to public order, it's hard to tell what doesn't."