BEIJING (Reuters) - One of China’s most prominent rights activists will appeal against a four-year prison sentence that prompted international criticism, his lawyer said on Tuesday, because he believes his conviction could set a bad precedent for others on trial.
A court sentenced Xu Zhiyong on Sunday after he campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities and for officials to disclose their assets. The United States, the European Union and rights groups have condemned the sentence.
The government has waged a 10-month drive against Xu’s “New Citizens’ Movement”, which advocates working within the system to press for change.
One of the group’s main demands has been for officials to disclose their assets.
While President Xi Jinping has made battling corruption a priority, authorities have shown no sign of agreeing to demands for all officials to disclose assets and at least 20 activists pressing for disclosures have been detained.
Xu has also campaigned for the right of children from rural areas to be educated in cities, where many live with their migrant-worker parents.
Xu’s lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said Xu was concerned about six other activists on trial this week, one of whom will be sentenced on Wednesday.
“If we don’t appeal, the verdict in these cases will not be changed, they’ll be predetermined,” Zhang told Reuters by telephone. “So we have to fight for a space for them, we have to fight for a chance.”
Zhang said although both he and Xu did not think they would win a lighter sentence with the appeal, they planned to use the opportunity to lay out their points of view about the case.
Zhang said he would file an appeal for Xu within 10 days.
Xu’s trial was China’s highest-profile proceeding against a dissident since 2009, when Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo was tried for subversion after helping organise the “Charter 08” petition urging the end of one-party rule. He was jailed for 11 years.
Zhang said that on Monday, he read Xu a letter from his wife, Cui Zheng, describing their first child, born about two weeks ago.
“When he was listening, he was very sad. He cried,” Zhang said. “After all, he hasn’t seen his child after her birth and the family’s responsibility now falls on Cui Zheng herself.”
Xu taught law at a Beijing university and ran in a local election. He became prominent over a drive to abolish “custody and repatriation” powers, a form of arbitrary detention used by local governments to sweep homeless people off the streets.
The government scrapped the system in 2003.
Editing by Robert Birsel