Rights lawyers harassed as China hails rule of law

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BEIJING (AP) - About 200 thugs harassed lawyers and relatives of three civil rights activists outside a courthouse in eastern China on Wednesday, as top judges in the capital marked the anniversary of China's constitution by hailing the rule of law.

The three activists were standing trial in the city of Xinyu on illegal assembly charges that supporters say were trumped up to punish them for being part of a group that urges citizens to embrace their constitutional rights.

The trial's second day, ironically, coincided with the 31st anniversary of China's constitution, and top judges in Beijing marked the day with pledges to promote the rule of law and judicial transparency.

In Xinyu, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the thugs surrounded six attorneys and the defendants' relatives as they approached the court, hurling abuse _ and clumps of mud _ at them. The court barred most of the public from attending the trial.

"They called us traitors, scumbags and hooligans," Pu said. "Today is China's constitution's anniversary. But we see how Xinyu is treating us. None of our rights have been respected."

At this time last year, newly appointed Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who is now China's president, marked the anniversary of the constitution by pledging to uphold the rights of Chinese citizens and urging officials to build confidence in the law.

Xi's remarks last December prompted the country's liberal intellectuals, activists and others to advocate that China adopt constitutionalism _ in which the government's power is restricted by the country's laws.

The three Xinyu activists _ Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua _ are among those who sought to push the party's new leadership to live by the promises laid out in the constitution, which guarantees freedoms of speech, assembly, religion and other rights that in reality are rarely protected in China.

The three are part of the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of campaigners who have lobbied for officials to declare their assets to help curb corruption. Participants have held small, peaceful demonstrations and organized dinner parties.

The three activists are accused of "illegal assembly" _ a charge their lawyers say stems from a photo of them holding signs calling for the release of other protesters _ and other charges.

A woman surnamed Peng who answered the phone at the Xinyu public security bureau said police had not received any reports of anyone being harassed at the courthouse.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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