A Chinese court has sentenced one of the country's most prominent activists to four years in prison, after he campaigned for childrens rights and against corruption.

The Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court found Xu Zhiyong guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order",
the court said on its official website on Sunday.

The government waged a 10-month campaign against his "New Citizens' Movement", which advocates working within the system to bring about change.

Hundreds of Chinese have participated in activities related to the movement and authorities have imprisoned at least 20 people, although not all of these are from Xu's group.

Two activists stood trial on Thursday in Beijing and four others will be tried on Monday. Three went on trial in December
and face more than 10 years in prison if convicted.

Stifling dissent

The Xu verdict is also a rebuff to Western governments that expressed concern about his case.

Through his online essays and Twitter account, Xu called for officials to disclose their assets and also campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities, where many live with their migrant worker parents.

It is China's most high-profile legal case against a dissident since 2009, when Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was put on trial for subversion after he helped organise the "Charter 08" petition urging the overthrow of one-party rule. Liu was jailed for 11 years.

During Xu's trial, the court rejected the 68 witnesses the defence had asked to give evidence and barred diplomats from attending. Security forces manhandled foreign reporters outside the court.

In 2013, a document purportedly circulated by the China's Communist Party's leadership warned of the dangers of citizen movements, saying they would eventually form a political opposition force to challenge the party at the grassroots level.

The document characterizes citizens' calls for public disclosure of officials' assets as a tactic by anti-China forces in the West and dissidents at home to incite discontent.