Xu Zhiyong, one of China ' s most prominent liberal legal scholars, was arrested last July after he called for the Communist party to be more open. His trial began today behind firmly closed doors.
An enormous police operation unfolded outside a courthouse in the western Beijing district of Babaoshan Wednesday for the trial of Xu Zhiyong, a 40 - year - old academic and founder of the New Citizens Movement in China.
Anticipating that some of the hundreds of people who had been helped or inspired by Mr Xu would try to show their support, there were teams of officers scanning the exits of the nearest subway station.
Groups of policemen and plain - clothed guards stood by every tree along the road to the court, scrutinising pedestrians. Large police vans stood ready to bundle off any likely targets. Another lawyer, Liang Xiaojun, was one of those arrested. " Lots of people trying to attend were arrested, " said Teng Biao, a fellow lawyer and friend of Mr Xu. " Some of the parents who were helped by Mr Xu were planning on going but some of them were taken away yesterday by National Security officers and have not returned, " he added. A group of 17 foreign diplomats, including representatives from the British embassy in Beijing, were permitted inside the courthouse, but were not allowed to witness the trial. The Communist party is also planning to rush through the trials of six other members of the New Citizens ' Movement, which was founded by Mr Xu, before Friday. The hearings come as the country winds down towards the Chinese New Year holiday next week. The loosely organised movement called for Chinese children to have equal education rights, whether they lived in the countryside or the city, and for Chinese government officials to publicly disclose their personal wealth. Mr Xu, who is likely to be sentenced to five years in prison, was charged with " gathering people to disturb order in a public place ", a reference to a series of tiny protests by people who held up banners demanding that officials declare their assets or for equal rights to education. Critics have said Mr Xu ' s prosecution reveals the shallowness of a proclamation by Xi Jinping, theChinesepresident, that he is committed to clean government. Indeed, on the day of Mr Xu ' s trial, a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that close relatives of several of China ' s top leaders, including Xi Jinping ' s brother - in - law, have secret offshore companies based in the British Virgin Islands and Cook Islands. Lawyers for the defendants said there had been several glaring abuses of due process, and Mr Xu remained silent throughout his hearing in protest at the handling of his case.