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Anti-corruption activist on trial in China

A Chinese anti-corruption campaigner has gone on trial in Beijing, according to his lawyer, joining two others who appeared in court this week as China’s government cracks down on activists.

Zhao Changqing, 45, faces a possible five-year prison sentence for supporting activists who unveiled banners in Beijing calling for government officials to disclose their assets – despite not being present, Zhang Peihong, his lawyer, said on Thursday.

Zhao is associated with the New Citizens Movement, a loose-knit network of campaigners against corruption, among other issues. China jailed a founder of the movement in January, and more than 10 other members have been tried.

Zhao pleaded not guilty to a charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” for his alleged involvement in three small-scale protests in Beijing, which saw activists unfurl banners, Zhang said.

“[Zhao] didn’t disturb public order in any way, he didn’t even appear on the scene of the protests, because he was worried about his family,” he said, adding that the hearing lasted around three hours.

Fellow anti-corruption activists Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei were also put on trial this week over the protests.

China’s ruling Communist Party is in the midst of a highly-publicised anti-corruption campaign, which President Xi Jinping has pledged will target both high-ranking “tigers” and low-level “flies” in the face of public anger over the issue.

But the party has cracked down harshly on independent activists who have the same goals, viewing independently organised anti-corruption protests as a challenge to its rule.

Zhao was previously jailed for his role as a leader during the 1989 pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square, and has served more than eight years in jail for his continued political campaigning.

A court in Beijing sentenced Xu Zhiyong, a legal campaigner and a founder of the New Citizens Movement, to four years in prison in January for his role in the protests.

The verdict was condemned by the US and the European Union. Xu’s lawyers said the trial was subject to political interference, and appealed, with a court set to announce its decision on Friday.

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