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September 23, 2017

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China sentences legal activist to 4 years

BEIJING--A Beijing court on Sunday sentenced a legal scholar and founder of a social movement to four years in prison for disrupting order in public places, a case that the U.S. government and other critics say is retribution for his push to fight corruption and create equal educational opportunities.

Amid tight security, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court handed down the verdict against Xu Zhiyong, founder of the loosely knit New Citizens movement, in a blow to the group and China's rights activism.

Hundreds of police officers — both in uniform and in plainclothes — were stationed around the courthouse. They pushed away foreign journalists and took away Xu's lawyer when he attempted to speak to the media, but not before he denounced the process as "very unfair."

Xu told "the court that the last shred of dignity of China's rule of law was destroyed today," lawyer Zhang Qingfang said before he was escorted away by police and shoved into a police van.

Xu's prosecution is part of a broader crackdown since last spring on dissent, including the silencing and detentions of influential bloggers and advocates for minority rights in Tibetan and Muslim Uighur areas.

Earlier this month, the authorities took away Ilham Tohti, a Uighur scholar and outspoken critic of China's ethnic policies. A police statement accused the university professor of separatism, inciting ethnic hatred and advocating violence to oppose China's rule over the far west region of Xinjiang, home to the ethnic minority of Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs.

Xu's verdict drew widespread criticism, with U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying in a statement that the U.S. was "deeply disappointed" and that Beijing should release Xu.

Amnesty International called the imprisonment a travesty and Human Rights Watch said convicting Xu "makes a mockery" of Chinese President Xi Jinping's crusade against corruption.

No Tolerance for Any Organized Movements

The ruling Communist Party is wary of any form of social force such as Xu's New Citizens movement because of its potential to threaten the party's rule at the grassroots level. Several other activists have stood trial or are scheduled to appear in court — all on the same charge of disrupting public order.

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