Four more activists went on trial yesterday, accused of disturbing public order after urging officials to reveal their assets, the latest in a string of prosecutions of anti-graft campaigners.
The trials of members of the New Citizen movement have been criticised by the West and rights groups as evidence of the Communist Party's determination to crush challenges to its rule. The government has waged a 10-month drive against the movement, founded by the prominent activist Xu Zhiyong, who was jailed on Sunday for four years.
The four activists put on trial yesterday - Ding Jiaxi, Li Wei, Zhang Baocheng and Yuan Dong - advocated working within the system to press for change and more official accountability.
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Like Xu, they were charged with "gathering a crowd to disturb public order", which carries a penalty of up to five years in jail.
"These individuals, and their prosecution, are part of a pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who challenge official Chinese policies and actions," US diplomat Daniel Delk said.
Delk, a second secretary at the US embassy, urged China to free the protesters immediately, lift curbs on their freedom of movement, and guarantee them protection and freedoms ensured by the country's international human rights commitments.
Police accuse the activists of planning, organising, and carrying out nearly 30 instances of "street political activities", from displaying banners to making speeches urging that officials reveal their assets, according to a copy of Li's arrest notice.
Ding, a lawyer based in Beijing, is accused of co-ordinating the movement, while Li, who is unemployed, was "responsible for the collection of information and dissemination of labour", the notice said.
Ding's trial was adjourned after he dismissed one of his lawyers, Wang Xing , and another lawyer, Cheng Hai , voluntarily withdrew his defence, because of improprieties in the judicial proceedings, Cheng said.
Li's trial was also adjourned after he dismissed his two lawyers, said one of them, Wang Quanzhang .
According to court rules, Ding and Li will both get 15 days to select new lawyers, according to Cheng and Wang.
"From now on, at least the trial has stopped," Wang said. "If we had continued, it would have been finished today and by tomorrow, or within two days, there could be a sentence."
Court officials and police refused to let diplomats from eight countries observe the trials yesterday, said Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary of the European Union delegation to China.