The trial today in Beijing of prominent human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong for ‘gathering crowds to disrupt public order’ has been condemned by the profession. 

Xu, a highly regarded legal scholar and anti-corruption campaigner, is one of several activists from a transparency movement to be tried this week. He has been detained in Beijing since July and faces up to five years in jail if convicted. 

‘The trial against Xu Zhiyong is a prime example of how lawyers are being tried on charges that have arisen out of their work on politically sensitive cases,’ said the Law Society in a statement.

‘The reported frequency of threats, physical violence and unfair trials endured by human rights lawyers in China is very concerning; lawyers should be allowed appropriate protections to carry our their legitimate duties free from fear of persecution.

‘Worryingly, there has been a growing number of reports of Chinese human rights advocates being subjected to unfair trials,’ it said. 

Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of Xu, describing the trial as a ’hypocritical crackdown’ on anti-corruption campaigners.

‘Instead of president Xi Jinping’s promised clamp-down on corruption, we are seeing a crackdown against those that want to expose it,’ said Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty International.

‘We consider Xu Zhiyong to be a prisoner of conscience and he should be released immediately and unconditionally. Anything less would make a mockery of the Chinese government’s ongoing anti-corruption efforts,’ said Rife.

At a pre-trial hearing last Friday, a judge rejected a request from Xu’s lawyer for his case to be tried alongside other defendants who have been jointly charged for their activities linked to transparency group the New Citizens Movement. Xu said he will remain silent in court in protest at the decision.

‘By denying a collective trial the judge is preventing the full truth from being heard. It is yet another example of the injustice these activists face,’ said Rife.