Beijing police have recommended that one of the country's most prominent rights advocates, Xu Zhiyong , be tried for his role in organising demonstrations demanding the disclosure of officials' wealth and equal education opportunities, his lawyer and a friend said.
The recommendation from investigators in Beijing brought Xu one step closer to trial, but prosecutors must still decide whether to indict him, his lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said. "Legally speaking, this means that the public security office believes that Xu Zhiyong's actions constituted a crime," Zhang said.
Teng Biao, a friend of Xu's, said: "The prosecutors can choose to indict, demand further investigation or reject the charges. Indictment is most likely, I'm afraid."
Teng said another of Xu's lawyers had told him about the police decision on Friday.
Zhang said Xu maintained his innocence. "Mr Xu has always been adamant that he never committed any crimes, that he was acting entirely within the bounds of his lawful rights," Zhang said.
The accusations show that the government has targeted Xu for his leading role in a citizens' rights movement that has gained a public following since last year with its demands for greater political freedom and disclosure of officials' assets as a way to fight corruption.
The New Citizen movement has also protested against the mainland's education system, which prevents students from rural areas from sharing the same resources and opportunities as those in big cities.
Zhang said the criminal charge against Xu was "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place, the one he was arrested for".
"The public security [officials] claimed that he organised people to assemble and demand disclosure of officials' wealth and equal education rights, disturbing public order," he said.
The police also accuse Xu of helping to arrange banners and other paraphernalia for the small, usually brief protests held in Beijing and elsewhere, Teng said.
The police detained Xu in July after he had already spent more than three months under informal house arrest in his apartment.
Several other supporters of the citizens' movement and parallel rights campaigns have been arrested, including a wealthy investor, Wang Gongquan , and a veteran dissident, Yang Maodong . Last week, a court in Xinyu city, Jiangxi province, tried three other participants in the movement.
Xu studied law, but government authorities have refused to give him a licence to practice.
Zhang, his lawyer, said prosecutors might spend a month to six months or more considering the case. He said his most recent visit to Xu was in late November this year.
"He's doing okay," Zhang said. "He is very firm that he will defend himself as innocent."