Legal experts said Beijing's top court acted unfairly but predictably when it rejected rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong's appeal against his conviction for disturbing public order.
The Beijing Municipal High People's Court yesterday upheld Xu's four-year jail sentence.
Xu, a leading figure of the New Citizen movement which calls for public disclosure of officials' assets, among other demands, was detained on July 16. Where he will serve his sentence or when he will be transferred to prison remained unknown.
"For this entire trial, the prosecution has violated every boundary of the law," Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said. "The decision was made long ago."
Watch: Xu Zhiyongs speaks out from jail
According to Zhang, the prosecution claimed to have read all 129 case files against Xu in a single week, a feat he described as "nearly impossible".
"The prosecutor's office said they stayed up every night to study them, but it would require a miracle to read all 129 files in just one week," Zhang said.
The closed-door trial was brief, and the court refused to summon prosecution witnesses for cross-examination. It also rejected the defendant's request to admit his own witnesses. Xu asked to read a closing statement, during which the court cut him off, calling it irrelevant.
"The court prevented Xu from exercising his lawful rights," Zhang said.
Last July, Xu, 41, was accused of leading several small protests that called for the end of education inequality and for officials to begin disclosing their wealth.
"This wakes the world up to the fact that 'hunting tigers' and 'swatting flies' are just facades," said Liu Weiguo, a human rights lawyer, referring to the slogan that President Xi Jinping used for his anti-graft campaign.
"They aren't listening, nor are they giving people what they really want."
Xu and his many supporters had expressed hope that Xi, who has made cracking down on corruption within the Communist Party a priority and is a driving figure behind reform, would be more sympathetic towards organised campaigns for change. The president's father, Xi Zhongxun, left a legacy of liberalism.
"The party doesn't want to appear to be driven by civil society - they want to be seen to be taking control and making improvements on its own terms," said Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's very much a top-down process, not-bottom up."
Despite the setbacks, Teng Biao, a fellow rights lawyer and editor of Xu's new book, To be a Citizen: A Free China, said the public's momentum for change would not stop completely.
"The truth is, we cannot wait for the party, which doesn't have the ability nor the desire to give China an open society.
"The hope lies with Xu, and others like him, who will fight for civil rights no matter what happens to them."
Three other New Citizen activists went on trial this week - Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei on Tuesday and Zhao Changqing on Thursday - also for disturbing public order.
The three activists face prison terms of up to five years if convicted.