, BEIJING, September 12- Defence lawyers for a respected Chinese activist who organised protests against censorship boycotted his trial Friday forcing it to be postponed.
The case is the latest step in a crackdown on dissent that has alarmed rights groups.
Guo Feixiong, whose real name is Yang Maodong, and another activist, Sun Desheng, are accused of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” for their part in protests supporting a liberal southern Chinese newspaper last year.
The charge is often used against protesters in China and carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Ge Yongxi, a lawyer for Sun, confirmed to AFP that Guangzhou’s Tianhe District People’s Court postponed the trial after the defence failed to appear.
The lawyers say the court has illegally refused to provide them with copies of prosecution evidence including videos and photos.
In a message posted online late Thursday, Guo blasted China’s “dictatorship” and vowed to stay silent during the hearing if the court maintained its stance.
“I express my strongest protest and condemnation of this flagrant violation of the rule of law,” Guo wrote in a message posted on the website of the New Citizens Movement, a loose-knit activist network in which he is a key member.
Court officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The case is the latest in a long string of moves aimed at shuttering dissent since Chinese President Xi Jinping rose to power in late 2012.
Scores of lawyers, bloggers, academics and activists — including nearly a dozen members of the New Citizens Movement — have been targeted in what campaigners say is a clampdown unlike any in recent years.
– ‘Man of action’ –
Guo, a well known legal consultant based in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, has faced police harassment and numerous beatings as a result of his advocacy for the rights of ordinary citizens.
He is well known for helping residents of a southern Chinese village organise themselves in 2006 against a local Communist Party boss who they accused of illegally selling their land to enrich himself.
Guo was later sentenced to five years in prison for “running an illegal business”, charges his supporters dismissed as trumped up and politically motivated.
After his release in 2011, he called for officials to disclose their assets and in January 2013 helped organise protests supporting the outspoken newspaper Southern Weekend after its new year editorial was censored. He was detained again that August.
“Guo Feixiong is a man of action,” said Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia. “He’s very determined. All he’s done is exercise the rights guaranteed to him under our country’s constitution — freedom of speech, freedom of expression.”
Hu pointed to Guo’s persistent street activism as well as his hunger strikes while in detention, noting that Chinese authorities view him as an influential leader of the Southern Street Movement, a network of activists in Guangdong province.
“What the authorities fear most isn’t people who post a lot of essays online,” Hu said. “It’s people who take part in street politics, like in 1989. Those are the people they most bitterly hate and are on guard against.”
Maya Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that while Guo may not be well known outside the country, his influence is on par with renowned campaigners such as Xu Zhiyong and Gao Zhisheng.
“Now, all of these early organisers or founders who started the movement are either imprisoned, detained or exiled,” she said.
“It shows just how far the government has further tightened civil liberties in China… and there’s no end to it yet,” she added.