BEIJING (AFP) - Amnesty International condemned on Tuesday the forthcoming trials of eight anti-corruption activists in China, calling them "hypocritical" and saying they highlighted flaws in the ruling Communist Party's much-publicised anti-graft campaign.
Starting Wednesday with the case of Xu Zhiyong, one of China's most prominent current dissidents, the eight activists face possible five-year prison sentences in separate trials this week.
The activists are part of a loose-knit group referred to as the New Citizens Movement founded by Mr Xu, a well-known lawyer and human rights campaigner.
They are being prosecuted over peaceful protests in which they held up banners calling for government officials in China to disclose their financial assets, seen by some as a reform which would combat corruption.
Since taking over as head of the Communist party in November 2012, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly vowed to combat endemic graft in the country's political system, with state-run media covering the campaign extensively.
But Chinese authorities do not tolerate any organised activity that might develop into a challenge to their rule.
"Instead of President Xi Jinping's promised clampdown on corruption, we are seeing a crackdown against those that want to expose it," Ms Roseann Rife, East Asia research director for London-based Amnesty International said Tuesday in a statement headed "China: Hypocritical crackdown on anti-corruption campaigners".
Mr Xu and the other activists are accused of "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place" for their role in the street protests.
"We consider Xu Zhiyong to be a prisoner of conscience and he should be released immediately and unconditionally," Ms Rife said.
"Anything less would make a mockery of the Chinese government's ongoing anti-corruption efforts," said Ms Rife. The activists were on trial "simply for exercising their rights to assembly and free speech", she added.
The arrest of Mr Xu, a trained lawyer and lecturer at a university in Beijing, has been condemned by the US and the EU.
Members and rights groups estimate that between 20 and 40 people connected with the protests have been detained since last year. At least three have already been put on trial.
Governments and rights groups have reported a tightening of restrictions on dissent and the media since Xi assumed the party's top post.