Updated: 04/10/2014 02:05 | By Agence France-Presse

Lawyers quit in protest at China graft activists' trial

Lawyers representing two Chinese anti-graft activists walked out of a Beijing courtroom in protest on Wednesday, with one of them denouncing the trial proceedings as "criminal". 

Lawyers quit in protest at China graft activists' trial

A Chinese policeman walks pass a court where two Chinese anti-corruption activists Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei are on trial in Beijing's Haidian district on April 8, 2014 - by Goh Chai Hin

Sui Muqing and Jiang Yuanmin, two human rights lawyers representing members of a loose-knit activist network called the New Citizens Movement, withdrew their counsel on the second day of the trial, they told AFP.

The prosecution is the latest strike by Beijing authorities against the New Citizens Movement, a network of activists whose dinner discussions and small-scale protests calling for official disclosure of assets have drawn the anger of China's Communist authorities. 

"They are conducting an unabashedly illegal trial, which is totally unacceptable," Sui told AFP. "I think the trial is a kind of criminal activity.

"They fined me for disrupting the court order, but in fact, the court itself has no justice at all," he added. 

Sui, who represented activist Ding Jiaxi, and Jiang, whose client was co-defendant Li Wei, both said they left the courtroom in Beijing's Haidian district after they were presented with photocopies of evidence against their clients rather than originals.

"They were all copies. We demanded that the court show us the originals. The court refused," Jiang told AFP. "This goes against the requirements of Chinese law." 

The court also prevented the defence from calling witnesses and did not allow any journalists or foreign diplomats to observe the trial, they said. The only observers allowed from the defendants' side were Li's parents, Sui noted. 

Chinese authorities are 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, seeing organised anti-corruption protests as a challenge to its rule. 

A key leader of the movement, Xu Zhiyong, was sentenced in January to four years in prison for "gathering crowds to disrupt public order". 

Ding and Li face the same charge. When they originally went on trial in January, they triggered a delay by withdrawing their previous lawyers and hiring new ones.

It appears they are not attempting a similar strategy this time, as two other attorneys representing them will stay on, Sui and Jiang said. 

"The trial will still go on even if we all quit," Sui said. "The court doesn't care about our presence. They just want to finish the trial." 

A third New Citizens Movement activist, Zhao Changqing, is expected to go to trial Thursday.

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