At least three members of the New Citizen Movement, a group of activists calling for the respect of human rights and government transparency in China, are expected to stand trial the southeastern province of Jiangxi province within two weeks.
Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua are the first members of the grassroots movement to stand trial this year. Chinese authorities seem to have targeted the movement in particular in this year's harsh crackdown on Internet speech and political activism. So far, at least 16 people have been detained throughout the country on charges related to participating in the movement.
In July, one of the founders of the movement, Xu Zhiyong, was taken into police custody after spending months under house arrest. He has since been charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and is expected to face trial soon. Last year, he had called on activists to join monthly dinner meetings and discuss the constitution and government transparency.
Two other leading members of the movement, Guangzhou-based activist Guo Feixiong, also known as Yang Maodong, and Wang Gongquan, a venture capitalist, were detained on the same charges in August and September respectively.
The Jiangxi trio are expected to appear at the Yushu District People’s Court for a pre-trial hearing on Monday, said Liu’s lawyer Zhang Xuezhong, a Shanghai-based attorney and law lecturer.
The three were detained on April 27 in their hometown of Xinyu, one week after they appeared in photos posted online holding banners calling for the release of other New Citizen Movement activists. They were later charged with illegal assembly.
In September, prosecutors added new charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and “using a cult to damage enforcement of the law” to the accusations against Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping.
The first charge dates back to Liu Ping’s campaign to be elected as a local lawmaker in 2011. Lawyer Zhang said he would contest in court the prosecution's evidence related to this charge as “fabricated”.
The second charge relates to a message sent by Liu via the QQ internet messaging service in solidarity with Falun Gong practitioners standing trial in Shanghai in 2012. She called on sympathizers to attend the trial or gather outside the courthouse. Liu is not a Falun Gong practitioner, said her lawyer Zhang.
“The trial will be a test case to what the government really thinks about transparency and activism,” said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Liu Ping is a very prominent activist, how her trial proceeds will send a message to others.”
Liu’s daughter Liao Minyue said in a microblog post that authorities had instructed her not to speak about her mother’s trial, or else she could lose her teaching job in a local school.
Update: The three defendants did not appear at the pre-trial hearing. Lawyer Zhang said he and other lawyers are challenging the court over the detention of Liu, Wei and Li for more than three months without appropriate legal process. The trial date is yet unknown.