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Reporters Without Borders deplores the four-year jail sentence that Beijing Intermediate Court No. 1 imposed on the cyber-dissident Xu Zhiyong on 26 January on a charge of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order." He got just one year less than the maximum of five years.
"We condemn both the harshness of the sentence and the way the trial was conducted," said Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
"The judicial authorities flouted many procedural regulations, including those governing the right of defence. This legal farce was deplorable and confirms that the government has no time for international conventions. We call for Xu's immediate release."
Xu and his lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, chose to remain silent throughout most of the trial. At the end, Xu began to read a final statement entitled "In the name of freedom, justice and love," but the judge cut him short after five minutes. Zhang had planned to call 68 defence witnesses but the court did not allow any of them to testify.
Foreign diplomats were not allowed to attend the trial, while police prevented TV reporters from filming outside the court, manhandling them and pushing them away. One plainclothes policeman forced an Agence France-Presse journalist to leave in a taxi.
The trials of other members of the New Citizens Movement that Xu founded – Ding Jiaxi, Li Wei, Zhang Baocheng and Yuan Dong – have begun since end of Xu's trial.
As part of the current crackdown and wave of censorship, the well-known blogger and dissident Hu Jia was arrested at his Beijing home on 26 January and was held for several hours on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble."
"The New Citizens Movement is not going to disappear because of the crackdown," Hu told Reporters Without Borders. "We are going to continue demonstrating to get Communist Party officials to declare their assets and to obtain the release of our members who have been arrested."
Hu added: "The arrests of members of the New Citizens Movement by the party's political police constitute violations of civil liberties. Xu Zhiyong and the others are innocent. It is the members of the Communist Party's judicial apparatus who are guilty."
China is ranked 173rd out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.<br/>