A Guangzhou-based civil rights activist has been charged with a criminal offence for his part in street demonstrations for press freedom after a high-profile censorship fight at the Southern Weekly earlier this year.
Liu Yuandong was indicted on a charge of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order", his lawyer, Liu Zhengqing, said yesterday. Prosecutors informed the lawyer of the charges on Monday.
The case relates to street protests in January in the Guangdong capital. Hundreds of people had rallied outside the offices of the Southern Weekly after censors replaced the newspaper's New Year editorial calling for guaranteed constitutional rights. About 100 editors and reporters at the newspaper went on strike.
Dozens of activists who supported their cause were detained at the time.
Liu, 35, had "attracted a large crowd of onlookers by holding banners and making speeches", the indictment read. It said Liu had done this on three consecutive days in January.
He was first detained on March 11 on a charge of misstating the registered capital of a company in 2011.
Supporters then shared photos online in which they were holding banners calling for Liu to be released.
He was formally arrested while in custody in April in the business case. The charge linked to the January protests were made last month, Liu's lawyer said. Liu could face up to seven years in prison for taking part in the Southern Weekly protests, plus three years in jail for the financial charge, the lawyer said.
Teng Biao , a mainland legal scholar, said Liu was an important democracy activist in southern China. "His ideas and actions constituted a threat for the authorities, but neither what he did nor what he said was illegal,'' Teng said.
Liu had participated in several street protests in Guangzhou over the past few years, including demonstrating in support of the Arab spring and another against North Korea's nuclear test.
Another veteran rights activist, Yang Maodong , also known as Guo Feixiong , was detained in Guangzhou in August. He told family members the police consider him the mastermind behind the Southern Weekly protests. No charges have yet been brought against him.