BEIJING - Two prominent Chinese political activists went on trial Friday for helping to organise small-scale protests against censorship, their lawyer said, the latest prosecution in a deepening government crackdown on dissent.
Guo Feixong and Sun Desheng both face possible five year prison sentences for their attempts to raise awareness of human rights, their lawyer Li Jinxing told AFP.
The pair are the latest in a wave of human rights activists, lawyers, academics and journalists to be jailed or detained in what has been seen as China's biggest campaign against government critics in years.
Both are writers best known by their pseudonyms and at a court in the southern city of Guangzhou, Guo, whose real name is Yang Maodong, and Sun, whose real name is Sun Sihuo denied "gathering a crowd to disturb public order", a charge often used to jail protesters.
China's courts are controlled by the Communist party and have a near-100 per cent conviction rate, so that the two are almost certain to be found guilty.
Prosecutors said that the activists' support for protests against censorship at a liberal southern Chinese newspaper last year make them eligible for the maximum sentence, Li said.
"Guo wanted to push forward the progress of society peacefully and rationally, but despite that, the authorities could not accept this," Li said. "This is a problem for all Chinese people." Prosecution documents also mentioned an "advocacy tour" last year which saw activists travelling across China to promote awareness of human rights, the US-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said.
Four other activists involved in the tour have also been detained, CHRD said, in what it called a "major crackdown" under President Xi Jinping.
The prosecution shows that "the government under Xi's leadership has no intention to loosen its control on the legal system as its weapon to silence and punish human rights and democracy advocates", CHRD researcher Renee Xia said in a statement.
Guo, a legal consultant based in Guangzhou, is well known for helping residents of a southern Chinese village organise in 2006 against a local Communist party boss who they accused of illegally selling their land to enrich himself.
He was involved in protests which saw around 100 people gather outside the offices of the Southern Weekly newspaper in January last year after one of its editorials was brazenly censored.
China has this year used the same charge faced by Guo and Sun to jail around a dozen activists who held small-scale protests calling for officials to disclose their financial assets as a measure against corruption.