BEIJING (AP) — China might be trying to obscure the number of dissidents it is targeting by charging them with public order offenses instead of political crimes, a U.S.-based rights group said Wednesday.
The Dui Hua Foundation said it estimates that the number of indictments in China for state security offenses, such as subversion and separatism, fell last year to the lowest level since 2007. Dui Hua is a San Francisco-based group that advocates for clemency for political prisoners.
But authorities appear to be targeting more political dissidents with other crimes, such as illegal assembly, or crimes of disturbing social order instead, the group said.
There were 11,000 more indictments for such crimes last year than in 2012, according to statistics released by China's top prosecutors' office, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, on Monday.
The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year saw the beginning of a wide-ranging crackdown on civil rights activism in China shortly after Xi Jinping was installed as Communist Party leader in late 2012.
Among the most prominent to be prosecuted was Xu Zhiyong, the Beijing-based founder of the New Citizens Movement, a campaign that inspired people across the country to gather for dinner parties to discuss social issues and occasionally to unfurl banners in public places in small rallies.
The movement sought to mobilize people to urge the government to curb corruption and provide fair access to education.
Xu was sentenced to four years in prison for organizing small public rallies, on the charge of disrupting order in public places in a case that drew criticism from U.S. and European governments.