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Anti-Corruption Activist Xu Zhiyong Set to Stand Trial in China

A prominent anti-corruption activist and legal scholar is due to go on trial Wednesday accused of organizing demonstrations essentially demanding the authorities obey their own transparency laws.

Xu Zhiyong, the leader of a moderate reformist group, was arrested in July for organizing small protests calling for government officials to declare their income and assets.

Supporters say his work has exposed shortcomings in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption policy that has reportedly brought down 20,000 crooked officials.

While this government policy has been widely trumpeted by state media, Xu’s arrest is part of a much less talked about crackdown against activists and social media campaigners despite the fact they are very often calling for an end to the same corrupt practices being targeted by President Xi.

Xu’s trial is the first major dissident case since Xi took power and the most anticipated since Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo was locked up for "subversion" in Dec. 2008.

The 40-year-old Xu is the co-founder of a loose group of like-minded activists called the New Citizens Movement, which seeks to work within the current system to affect change.

After setting up the New Citizens Movement in 2010, he and other activists hoped the rise of Xi would mean more wiggle room for anti-corruption advocates. But, with Xi intent on tightening his grip amid a slowing economy and other internal pressures, this proved to be a miscalculation.

"While Xi Jinping has spoken a lot about tackling corruption and there have been some high-profile arrests, the government has harshly retaliated against those who exposed high-level corruption in the government and party," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.