Three mainland activists fighting for officials to disclose their assets have been given the toughest jail sentences yet in the authorities' crackdown on the New Citizen movement.
A court in Jiangxi province yesterday jailed Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping for 6½ years and handed Li Sihua a three-year sentence, according to Li's lawyer.
All three were convicted of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", while Liu and Wei were also found guilty of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order in a public space" and "using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement".
The three participants of the New Citizen movement posted photographs of themselves online last year holding banners urging government officials to disclose their assets as a curb against corruption.
The movement is a loosely organised collection of activists calling for government transparency and an end to official corruption.
An initiator of the group, Xu Zhiyong, a university lecturer in Beijing, was imprisoned for four years in January for disrupting public order.
Legal experts and rights groups said the trials showed the government's resolve in muzzling critics and stamping out organised street protests, even if their demands appeared consistent with President Xi Jinping's goals of fighting corruption and reforming the judicial system.
Dozens of others linked to the movement have been detained and prosecuted, according to Amnesty International China researcher William Nee.
Liu, Wei and Li were originally detained on subversion charges in April last year. This was changed to illegal assembly last September.
Two days before the sentencing, Liu's lawyers were told the court had changed the charge again to "picking quarrels and creating troubles", violating a legal requirement of three days' advance notice, according to Nee.
"They are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally," he said.
Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the three were well-known for campaigning against corruption.
"The local authorities have essentially used the current crackdown as an opportunity," Wang said. Staff at the court and the Xinyu Public Security Bureau declined to comment.
Li was previously represented in the case by lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.
Pu was detained last month after attending a meeting commemorating the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters.
Pu was later formally arrested for disturbing public order and "illegally obtaining citizens' personal information".
Pu's lawyer, Zhang Sizhi, said earlier Pu might face a heavy jail term.
"The heavy-handedness of the investigators … is beyond my expectation," Zhang wrote in an essay.
Pu, a diabetes sufferer, was interrogated as long as 10 hours a day, he wrote.