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China cracks down on media coverage as activist goes on trial

By Steven Jiang and Katie Hunt, CNN
updated 10:47 PM EST, Wed January 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW Trial of Chinese anti-corruption activist Xu Zhiyong wraps up
  • Authorities came down hard on international media covering the trial
  • CNN correspondent says he was kicked, pushed and punched by Chinese security
  • Trial comes amid potentially embarrassing revelations about the wealth of China's elite

Beijing (CNN) -- The trial of a high-profile Chinese activist accused of organizing protests against official corruption wrapped up after a one-day hearing on Wednesday, his lawyer told CNN.

Prosecutors alleged that Xu Zhiyong "gathered a crowd to disturb public order" after a series of small protests when demonstrators unfurled banners in Beijing calling for officials to publicly declare their assets, lawyer Zhang Qingfang said.

Zhang added that said Xu could face up to five years in prison if he is found guilty.

The lawyer did not know when the verdict would be announced but said he assumed his client would be found guilty because of the political nature of the case.

Xu founded the New Citizens Movement, which calls for official transparency and rule of law.

In court, Xu tried to read a prepared statement highlighting the goals of the movement and declaring his innocence but was interrupted by the judge when he spoke about wanting top leaders to be transparent about their assets, his lawyer said.

"Calling on officials to reveal their assets was our effort to promote the country's anti-graft system," Xu said before being removed from the courtroom, according to his lawyer.

"More than 137 countries and regions in the world have established such systems, why can't China? What are those 'people's servants' afraid of?"

The trial has attracted widespread attention and authorities have come down hard on international media covering the case.

Author: Corruption hurt Communist Party
Corruption concerns Chinese officials

A CNN crew was prevented from approaching and filming the court house and CNN's Beijing correspondent, David McKenzie, was kicked, pushed and punched by Chinese security before being forced into a nearby van and driven away.

Embarrassing revelations

Xu's trial began amid new and potentially embarrassing revelations about the wealth of China's elite.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported that close relatives of China's top leaders own offshore companies in international tax havens.

The report said that confidential files showed that President Xi Jinping's brother-in-law and the son of former Premier Wen Jiabao had set up companies in the British Virgin Islands.

While not illegal, the findings shed light on the wealth of the country's leaders at a time when President Xi is intensifying his campaign against high-level corruption, the report said.

Groundbreaking causes

Xu was arrested on July 16 after spending more than three months under house arrest at his Beijing home.

A former law lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, Xu has a reputation for taking on groundbreaking legal causes.

He has campaigned for death row inmates and families effected by a poisoned milk formula scandal in 2009.

Searches for Xu's name and "constitutional rule" were blocked on Chinese microblogs and search engines.

In December, John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, appealed for Xu's release and that of other activists.

CNN's Beijing bureau contributed to this report

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