China indicts activist who backed press freedom

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News,World,China

BEIJING (AP) — A prominent Chinese activist who has pushed for human rights and democracy has been charged with gathering crowds to disrupt public order, more than 10 months after he was taken into police custody, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The indictment of Yang Maodong, better known by the pen name Guo Feixiong, is the latest in a string of prosecutions of activists who have criticized the policies and practices of China's government and championed democracy and the rule of law.

Chinese authorities this year convicted legal scholar Xu Zhiyong, founder of the loosely knit New Citizens Movement, on the same charge and sentenced him to four years in prison. Several followers of that movement also were imprisoned.

Yang is a dissident writer and a leading political activist in southern China. He served a five-year jail sentence between 2006 and 2011, and the writer's advocacy group International PEN said he was targeted for a book that exposed official corruption in a northeastern Chinese city.

Yang's lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong, said the latest charge stems largely from an incident in early 2013 in which he joined crowds which rallied outside a Chinese newspaper to support press freedom during a dispute over censorship at the paper.

Zhang said Yang, rather than stirring up the crowds, urged fellow demonstrators to be orderly.

"If he had violated the law then, the police on the scene should have acted," Zhang said. "This is a completely made-up charge."

Zhang said Yang also took photos in several tourist sites while holding placards demanding that China's legislature ratify international human rights conventions.

Yang will be tried in the southern city of Guangzhou, most likely this summer, and is almost certain to be found guilty, Zhang said.

"Judging from how the authorities have handled other cases involving activists, I don't think Yang would be freed, even if what he has done constitutes no crime," Zhang said.

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