A quarrel that anti-graft activists can never win

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 4:56am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 9:23am

The mainland leadership's drive against corruption shows no sign of abating; nor does rank guarantee immunity. It does not follow, however, that the crackdown creates a more tolerant environment for activists to call for clean government. Three campaigners for official transparency and accountability have found that out to their cost.

President Xi Jinping is treading a fine line in leading the fight to root out official corruption without risking stability and party unity. There is, therefore, little appetite for popular participation. The authorities, who do not like challenges at any time, do not want activists to hijack the agenda. Now a court in Jiangxi has jailed the three activists after finding them guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".

Sentences of 6-1/2 years' jail for Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping show a determination to deter criticism of authority, and intensified efforts to maintain stability as the crackdown continues. They are nonetheless harsh under the circumstances. Two additional charges - "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement" - are unconvincing justification. A third accused, Li Sihua , was jailed for three years.

They are the latest members of the New Citizen movement to find themselves before the courts. Last January lawyer Xu Zhiyong was jailed for four years for "assembling a crowd to disrupt public order" after he, too, organised a campaign for rules to compel officials to disclose their assets.

As with Xu, Liu, Wei and Li have been urging the government to take action that is consistent with the leadership's drive against corruption. Indeed, all four were advocating steps the government could be expected to take in trying to make China a more equitable society. They are not advocating the overthrow of Communist Party rule or inciting people to take to the streets. It is regrettable that even when it comes to the official goal of keeping government open and honest, civil society cannot rise above suspicion.