Accused dissident Xu Zhiyong calls for China to democratize

<i>This post has been updated. See the note below for details.</i>

BEIJING -- Xu Zhiyong, a Chinese activist who has pressed officials to disclose their assets, championed equal access to education and fought for other causes, released a strongly worded statement Thursday defending his New Citizens Movement and stressing the need for China to democratize as his trial on charges of disrupting the public order came to a close.

“Good politics is a result of true democracy and rule of law. On every level, the government and the legislature must be elected by the people. The power to govern should not come from the barrel of a gun but through votes,” he wrote.

“Democracy is the knowledge to solve human problems. Our ancestors did not discover this knowledge,” he added. “We should thus be humble and learn from others. Over the past 30 years, China introduced the system of market economy with free competition which brought economic prosperity. Similarly, China needs to introduce a democratic and constitutional system to solve the injustices of our current society.”

To protest what they contend were unfair trial procedures, Xu and his lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, stayed silent during the proceedings, which opened Wednesday morning amid extremely tight security at a courthouse in western Beijing. Uniformed and undercover police attempted to stop foreign journalists from reporting outside the building and detained a number of Xu supporters who unfurled signs nearby.


As the trial came to an end, Zhang told foreign journalists, Xu attempted to read out a concluding statement but was cut off after about 10 minutes. He then released the full text of his remarks.

“Political lies know no bounds in this country, and 1.3 billion people suffer deeply from it as a result. Suspicion, disappointment, confusion, anger, helplessness and resentment are norms of life,” he said. “We cannot escape politics, we can only work to change it. Power must be caged by the system, and the authoritarian top-down politics must change.”

The charges Xu faced stemmed from a series of protests in 2012 and 2013; authorities accused him of instigating and organizing the demonstrations. He was put under house arrest last spring, detained in July and formally arrested in August.

[Updated 10:10 a.m. PST Jan. 23: His prosecution has been condemned by U.S. officials. Ambassador to China Gary Locke released a statement Thursday saying the U.S. government was calling on China “to release Xu and other political prisoners immediately.”

“These prosecutions are the latest in a series of arrests of public interest lawyers, Internet activist journalists, religious leaders, and others who peacefully challenge official policies and actions in China,” he said.]

In his own statement Thursday, Xu proclaimed his innocence and denounced the charges as an absurd abrogation of his rights.

However, he sounded resigned to the idea that he would probably be convicted and sentenced to prison; the charges carry a term of up to five years. It was unclear when a verdict would be returned.

“I now finally accept judgment and purgatory as my fate, because for freedom, justice, and love, the happiness of people everywhere, for the glory of the Lord, all this pain, I am willing,” he said.

Xu’s trial opened on the same day the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a report detailing offshore accounts held by wealthy Chinese, including some relatives of top Communist Party officials. That news, along with reporting on Xu’s trial, was censored in the Chinese media and online.

Xu reiterated his call for a robust asset disclosure system, saying China was out of step with the rest of the world. “More than 137 countries and territories around the world currently have systems in place for officials to declare assets, so why can’t China?

“When hopes of reform are dashed, people will rise up and seek revolution,” he said. “The privileged and powerful have long transferred their children and wealth overseas; they couldn’t care less of the misfortune and suffering of the disempowered, nor do they care about China’s future.”

Although Xu appears to be expecting a conviction and sentencing, he cautioned that a prison term for him would not halt the New Citizens Movement, a loose-knit organization that has been gathering in small groups in various cities for the last several years to discuss issues and plan action campaigns.

“If you insist on persecuting the conscience of a people, I openly accept that destiny and the glory that accompanies it. But do not for a second think you can terminate the New Citizens Movement by throwing me in jail,” he said. “Ours is an era in which modern civilization prevails, and in which growing numbers of Chinese inevitably take their citizenship and civic responsibilities seriously.”

Twitter: @JulieMakLat