Xu Zhiyong sentenced to four years

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-27 1:03:01

Chinese lawyer Xu Zhiyong has been convicted of "assembling a crowd to disrupt order at public places" and sentenced to four years in prison, Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court announced Sunday.

He had once organized and incited some 100 parents to rally outside the Ministry of Education (MOE) in July 2012 to seek education equality, a report on guancha.cn, a Shanghai-based website, quoted the court indictment as saying.

Xu, founder of the New Citizens' Movement, has also campaigned for disclosure of officials' assets through posting on the Internet and holding banners aloft in public places.

The case, which has drawn widespread attention, was ruled based on Xu's acts, not what he advocated, said experts, noting that Western media have amplified its political significance.

Following Sunday's verdict, Zhang Qingfang, Xu's lawyer, said the conviction was "unreasonable," and he would meet Xu within the next two days to seek his opinion over whether to lodge an appeal, Reuters reported. Zhang turned down an interview request by the Global Times on Sunday.

The US State Department also released a statement saying the US is "deeply disappointed" at the conviction and labeled it "retribution."

Xu pushed for the easing of restrictions on where migrant workers' children could sit the college entrance examination. 

While the MOE has eased some restrictions since 2012, when an official document from the State Council was issued to allow children of migrant workers to take the exam where they live, instead of where their hukou (household registration) is filed, the issue remains highly divisive.

Migrant families were broadly supportive of Xu's ideas. However, many parents in large cities opposed the changes, fearing it would adversely affect their offspring's chances of entering colleges. In October 2012, more than 20 parents from Beijing petitioned the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education to express their discontent over the idea.

"It's wrong for some people to interpret today's verdict as suppression against dissidents. It is every citizen's right to express different opinions on the system or any improper government decisions as the nation pushes forward its development, and that doesn't make anyone a dissident," Fu Siming, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, told the Global Times.

Dong Shaomou, a law professor at the Northwest University of Politics and Law, in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, shared similar views, adding that Xu is among the many people to demand the disclosure of officials' assets and China is gradually working on the issue as a part of the country's anti-graft drive.

Xu's advocacy is not sensitive, but the means he took to advocate it disrupted order at a public place, said experts.

A number of regional governments have already advanced in disclosure of assets.

Jiangsu Province launched a pilot program on official asset-declaration in 2011, which requires local officials in chosen areas to declare their personal and family assets and make public the information. Guangdong Province is expected to complete its own program by the end of 2014.

"It seems that foreign media tend to politicize legal issues regarding China. Our laws actually deal with what people have done, not what they believe in. Like all other nations in the world, freedom is respected only when people play by the rules," Dong said.

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