Xu Zhiyong sentenced to four years in prison
One of China's leading law scholars has been jailed for four years in a case that has deeply dismayed the country's liberals.
A statement from Beijing's No.1 Intermediate Court said Xu Zhiyong, 40, was found guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order", a catch-all offence that is regularly used to jail those who the Communist party regards as its enemies.
"The whole case is unfair," said Mr Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, who was himself manhandled into the back of a police car outside the court to prevent him from speaking to the media.
"After the verdict was read out, Mr Xu said the court had shattered the last iota of dignity of China's rule of law," Mr Zhang added. "Then the police led him away. His sister was in the court but she did not get a chance to speak to him."
Before the sentence, Mr Zhang said that his client would appeal any conviction.
The mild-mannered Mr Xu is the founder of the New Citizens' Movement, which sought moderate reforms to the education system but which, more controversially, also called for Communist party officials to disclose their personal wealth.
Mr Xu refused to speak in his defence during his trial last week in protest at how his case had been mishandled. He attempted to make a final statement, but was cut off by the judge who said his comments were "irrelevant". Foreign diplomats were barred from the court and journalists were attacked and intimidated by policemen outside.
Mr Xu's conviction shows the shallowness of the Communist party's pledge to clean up the corruption that has infected every part of the Chinese government, critics noted.
"I am hugely sad and angry for my friend," said Teng Biao, the co-founder of Mr Xu's movement, from exile in Hong Kong.
"This may be the lowest point for the New Citizens' Movement, but I believe it will live on because it only aims to secure basic rights for every Chinese citizen. China cannot keep going without these basic rights and the rule of law. Things will change," he said.
Even before his conviction, the United States called for Mr Xu to be released. Gary Locke, the US ambassador said he was "deeply concerned" at the trial and described Mr Xu as a "political prisoner".
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty both immediately condemned the conviction and called for it to be reversed.
Mr Xu's supporters expressed disbelief at his imprisonment. "He always told us to abide by the law and avoid radical action," said Wang Yuping, a 58-year-old who Mr Xu helped to petition the Beijing government. "I do not understand why Mr Xu was arrested. He himself never broke the law and he never taught us to break the law."
Wang Xiaoxia, a 42-year-old mother said Mr Xu had helped her fight for her son's right to go to school in Beijing.
"We were prepared for this, but it is heart wrenching. Several parents went to the court this morning hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr Xu and they were all taken away by the police."
The authorities have rushed through the trials of several members of the New Citizens' Movement before the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays, but Mr Xu was the first to be convicted, perhaps setting a precedent for the other cases.
"All of the rest of the defendants will now be convicted because in the indictment it said they were Mr Xu's accomplices," said Zhang Xuezhong, a lawyer representing another defendant, Zhao Changqing.
However, another lawyer representing other members of the movement, Chen Jiangang, said it made little difference. "On the day they were arrested, they were already convicted," he said. "I have spoken to many other lawyers recently. This case brings shame to all of us. All we can do is go through the motions because our defence makes no difference."
Malcolm Moore & Adam Wu