Chinese activist group warns Communist Party: ‘We can not be stopped’

Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing-based legal scholar, was detained earlier this year after founding a nationwide group called the The Telegraph – by Tom Phillips

The Communist Party’s time in power is running out, one of China’s leading civil rights activists warned on Friday after a court rejected his attempt to overturn a four year jail term that supporters, activists and diplomats claim was based on trumped-up charges.

In a remarkable courtroom attack on Beijing’s attempts to silence its opponents, Xu Zhiyong, the 41-year-old founder of a civil-rights group called the New Citizens’ Movement, warned the Party its ongoing crackdown on activists was destined to fail.

“This ridiculous judgment cannot hold back the tide of human progress. The dark clouds of the Communist dictatorship will one day clear,” Dr Xu said, according to Zhang Qingfang, his lawyer, who was present.

“The light of freedom, fairness, justice and love will eventually fill China,” added Dr Xu, a legal scholar whose imprisonment came during a year-long campaign by China’s new president Xi Jinping against dissenters.

Dr Xu was speaking after Beijing’s high court rejected an appeal to overturn his earlier conviction for “gathering crowds to disturb public order”.

The academic, who was sentenced to four years imprisonment in January, is one of dozens of activists caught up in what has been described as the most severe attack on government critics since the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

Members of the movement marked Dr Xu’s failed appeal by publishing a withering critique of the Communist Party’s attempts to force their group into extinction.

Beijing’s “systematic persecution” of its enemies would fail to destroy a growing popular demand for major political and social change, argued a combative essay on the movement’s newly launched website.

“This is a movement that cannot be stopped,” wrote Chen Min a journalist and activist better known by the pen name Xiao Shu.

“Any attempt to hold [it] back is destined to fail, like beating back water with a sword,” Mr Chen added, according to a translation by the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project. “False charges, persecution and forced suppression will not avail but in fact will only steel our resolve.”

Teng Biao, a lawyer and co-founder of the New Citizens’ Movement, said Beijing’s politically motivated campaign would backfire.

“We will not stop,” Teng Biao told The Telegraph shortly after his friend’s appeal was rejected. “We will let the whole world know that this crackdown cannot stop us. We will keep following Dr Xu’s example. We believe that what we are doing and what we have done is legal and useful and important for society.”

Dr Xu and others conceived the New Citizens’ Movement in mid-2012 as a China-wide network of lawyers, academics, petitioners and liberal thinkers who were united by their desire for social change.

Its members, said by some to number in the thousands, hold informal dinner gatherings where they discuss the future of the world’s second largest economy and highlight issues including government corruption and transparency.

China’s leaders apparently feared the movement might grow into a “political threat”, said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Beijing responded with force, detaining or arresting dozens of activists since last year in order to send a message that “organised advocating for change is not acceptable”.

A spokesperson for the US embassy in Beijing said: “We call on Chinese authorities to release Xu and other political prisoners immediately, remove restrictions on their freedom of movement and guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China’s international human rights commitments.”

Foreign Office report issued on the eve of the appeal said 2014 had seen “ongoing restrictions on civil and political freedoms in China”.

Teng Biao said attempts to kill off the New Citizens’ Movement by jailing members would only make it stronger.

“I know that many citizens around China continue their activities, their dinner gatherings, their activities demanding the disclosure of officials’ assets,” he said.

“This kind of crackdown cannot prevent the New Citizens’ Movement from growing stronger. We have seen more and more people standing up and fighting for liberty and human rights.”

Mr Zhang, Dr Xu’s lawyer, said Friday’s verdict, while not unexpected, was “outrageous”.

“I believe the government has made a grave mistake,” he said. By criminalising “sensible and peaceful” citizens with legitimate complaints, the Communist Party risked creating “radical and violent opposition.”

“The government will come to regret this,” he said.

Beijing’s internet censors appeared to have blocked the New Citizens’ Movement new website by Friday afternoon, just hours after its launch. However, internet users who managed to scale the “Great Firewall of China” found a defiant message from the group.

“Repression will not end the New Citizens’ Movement,” it said. “This is the road to a free China. It is the road to a better China. We are duty bound to forge ahead.”

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