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Published: Monday January 27, 2014 MYT 5:49:00 PM
Updated: Monday January 27, 2014 MYT 5:53:39 PM

Lawyers: Four more China activists tried as dissident held

Barricades are set up outside the No. 1 Intermediate court in Beijing on January 22, 2014, as strict security is imposed ahead of the trial of Xu Zhiyong

Barricades are set up outside the No. 1 Intermediate court in Beijing on January 22, 2014, as strict security is imposed ahead of the trial of Xu Zhiyong

Beijing (AFP) - Four members of a high-profile Chinese rights movement went on trial Monday, in an escalating crackdown a day after its founder was sentenced to prison and a prominent dissident taken away by police.

The proceedings bring the total number of New Citizens Movement members tried on charges of disrupting public order to 10, seven of them since last Wednesday in Beijing.

Many had held banners in public, urging officials to disclose their assets as a check against corruption, and participated in other small protests and dinner discussions for which the movement is known.

At least 20 have been detained, largely over the past year.

China's new leadership under President Xi Jinping have also prioritised tackling graft, but fears any organised movement might undermine the control of the ruling Communist Party.

At Monday's trials two activists, Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei, dismissed their lawyers, one of the attorneys told AFP, in a move previous activists have used to delay proceedings for 15 days.

The other two, Zhang Baocheng and Yuan Dong, pleaded innocent, said Chen Jiangang, who represents Zhang.

Echoing the advocates for other activists, Chen expressed little hope of a fair trial in China's politically controlled courts.

"As lawyers we feel very constrained, there's nothing we can do," he said. "Our defence won't have any use."

On Sunday Xu Zhiyong, a central New Citizens figure and longtime rights lawyer, became the first member of the group to be jailed when he was sentenced to four years in prison. The maximum for the offence is five.

The news prompted immediate criticism overseas, with the United States saying it was "deeply disappointed" and the human rights group Amnesty International calling the decision "shameful".

Later the same day well-known dissident Hu Jia was taken away from his home in Beijing by security officers on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking troubles".

"Just now at 17:20 several uniformed police showed up at my door and showed me a summons," he wrote on Twitter at the time.

Soon afterwards, he tweeted: "I am about to leave with state security."

Calls to Hu's mobile phone could not be connected on Monday.

Hu told AFP last month he had participated in many New Citizens Movement events.

Three lawyers associated with him said Monday it was unclear what had prompted police to act now or where Hu had been taken.

The authorities are required to update the family of Hu's circumstances within 24 hours, said one of the lawyers, Shang Baojun.

Outside the hearings on Monday, dozens of police in uniforms and plain clothes surrounded the courthouse, and one shoved an AFP reporter for several hundred metres before forcing him into a taxi.

"You cannot stand here," he said, accompanied by a colleague. "There is no 'why'."

Other foreign journalists reported similar rough treatment outside hearings over the past week, with officers tightly closing off courthouses and forcing bystanders to leave.

The causes embraced by the New Citizens Movement range widely, from official graft to education equality.

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