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Three anti-corruption activists who campaigned for government transparency were handed out jail sentences on Thursday on charges which rights groups called “preposterous” and said revealed Beijing’s increasing resolve to crackdown on dissent.
A number of activists and lawyers, some of whom have called for government officials to declare their wealth, have been jailed in recent months even as President Xi Jinping carries out his much-publicised campaign to weed out graft.
Some of those detained were members of a loose network of activists, called the New Citizens’ Movement.
On Thursday, Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were sentenced to six and a half years imprisonment while Li Sihua was sentenced to three years in prison by a local court.
The charges against them range from illegal assembly, picking quarrels, creating disturbance and gathering a crowd to disturb public order.
“The charges against these activists were preposterous from the very beginning. Having a small private gathering and holding a banner in a lobby entrance demanding financial transparency from officials should not in any way constitute picking quarrels and illegal assembly,” William Nee, Amnesty International China Researcher said.
“The harsh sentences are just the latest moves in the politically motivated crackdown on the New Citizens Movement. They are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately,” Nee added.
“President Xi has told the country that he is committed to strengthen the rule of law and judicial fairness. However, these goals are undermined by the recent use of criminal prosecution and highly restrictive regulation to limit or deny constitutional rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly,” Shiwei Ye, senior programme officer at the Hong Kong-based Human Rights in China told HT.
Shewei added that the three activists were calling for greater transparency in line with the government’s own anti-corruption drive. “Their conviction today therefore is yet another missed opportunity for the government to work with civil society to advance the rule of law reforms,” said.
Nee demanded that the three were imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression and assembly and should be released immediately and unconditionally.