Chinese Anti-Corruption Activists Trial Halted, Lawyers Say

Three Chinese activists who were detained after calling for government officials to disclose their assets dismissed their lawyers, forcing a halt to their trial in the southern city of Xinyu in Jiangxi province.

The court rejected a request that the three judges in the case against Liu Ping, Li Sihua and Wei Zhongping be withdrawn, according to a statement posted late yesterday on the blog of one of the defense lawyers, Chen Guangwu. As a result, the activists dismissed their six-member legal team, saying the case cannot be tried by law, and have 15 days to choose a new defense line up, the lawyers said.

The trial on charges of “illegal assembly” contrasts with an official campaign against the corruption that President Xi Jinping has said poses a threat to Communist Party rule, and is the first to target such activists since Xi came to power in a once-a-decade leadership transition. The party said late yesterday that it had begun a probe into Liao Shaohua, the top official in the city of Zunyi where Chairman Mao Zedong emerged as its top leader in the 1930s.

Being dismissed by the client was an attempt by the lawyers to protest against a trial while avoiding disciplinary measures that have in the past included being disbarred, according to Eva Pils, an associate law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The lawyers’ dismissal must be understood as part of a strategy to protest through non-cooperation while avoiding the same sort of consequence,” Pils said in an e-mail. “Once the lawyers have been dismissed by their own clients they can of course not be accused of having violated their professional duties by walking out of the courtroom.”

‘New Citizens’

The three were detained in April after calling for the public disclosure of officials’ assets and were part of a group called the New Citizens Movement, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. At least 18 activists associated with the group have been arrested, including Xu Zhiyong, a prominent lawyer, it said.

An official at the Yushui District People’s Court in Xinyu, who did not give her name, confirmed the case had been adjourned after the lawyers were dismissed. She declined to give further details.

“Liu, Wei, and Li are canaries in the coal mine for how the government intends to treat this influential group of anti-corruption activists,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in an Oct. 24 statement. “Anything short of acquittal will seriously undermine the credibility of the government’s claims to be cracking down on corruption.”

Trial Period

In court yesterday the lawyers argued that according to criminal procedure law the charges should have been heard within three months of the court accepting the case, they said in the statement. If not the accused can be released on bail or under residential surveillance, they said.

In addition, the lawyers issued a complaint on Oct. 15 against the court’s judges over their clients extended detention, which the city’s procuratorate has received, the lawyers said in the statement. Since the procuratorate is investigating the judges, this may impact the impartial handling of the case, they said.

“We once again appeal for the Yushui District Court to take the lead in respecting and abiding by the law,” the lawyers said. They also called for the court to “immediately address the problem of the extended detention of the three accused.”

The presiding judge said the trial period should be recalculated due to further charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” and “using a cult to undermine implementation of the law” laid against Liu and Wei on Sept. 23, the lawyers said in the statement.

— With assistance by Henry Sanderson

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