Updated: 01/28/2014 21:12 | By Agence France-Presse

Top China activist Xu Zhiyong 'to appeal jail term'

Prominent Chinese activist Xu Zhiyong will appeal against a four-year jail term for organising protests, his lawyer said Tuesday, with proceedings still underway against many members of his rights movement.

Top China activist Xu Zhiyong 'to appeal jail term'

Barricades are set up outside the No. 1 Intermediate court in Beijing, on January 22, 2014, as strict security was imposed outside a courthouse ahead of the trial of Xu Zhiyong, one of China's most prominent dissidents - by Goh Chai Hin

China's dissent-wary authorities have cracked down on Xu's New Citizens Movement over the past year, so far detaining at least 20 and trying 10 on charges of disrupting public order. Xu was the first to be sentenced, on Sunday. 

The loose network of activists mounted small-scale demonstrations and dinner discussions, for causes ranging from government corruption to education equality. Many held banners in public urging officials to disclose their assets.

Xu's lawyer Zhang Qingfang told AFP that the Beijing court would probably not overturn Xu's sentence, but lodging an appeal might help or at least prolong the cases of other activists, who are being tried in a lower court.

"He will appeal within 10 days, the allowed time period for doing so," Zhang said of Xu. 

"Not appealing would be to say that these New Citizens Movement cases have already been declared guilty by a higher court."

Zhang added that three people involved with the movement had been released on bail, including its wealthy backer Wang Gongquan and two other participants. 

But in China's politically controlled courts all activists who come to trial are virtually certain to be found guilty. 

Xu's sentencing elicited international criticism, with the rights group Amnesty International calling it "shameful" and the United States saying it was "deeply disappointed".

His jailing comes as new leaders under President Xi Jinping have also prioritised official graft as a key problem, warning it could destroy the ruling Communist party.

But Beijing fears any organised dissent that could undermine their control, and has previously rejected foreign criticism of the trial as interference in its internal affairs.

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