Xu Zhiyong was released from his jail on Beijing's outskirts on Saturday morning

One of China's most prominent rights activists was released by the authorities on Saturday after serving a four-year sentence that prompted international criticism, with his lawyer saying he hoped he would be allowed to live as a free man.

Xu Zhiyong, whose "New Citizens' Movement" advocated working within the system to press for change, was detained in 2013 and subsequently convicted of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order".

One of the group's main demands had been for officials to publicly disclose their assets, a demand taken against the backdrop of the ruling Communist Party's own efforts to crackdown on deep-seat corruption under President Xi Jinping.

Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, told Reuters he had brought Xu up to speed with "events on the outside", including the death of fellow activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo. He said Xu was "upset" upon hearing the news.

Zhang said Xu, who was released from his jail on Beijing's outskirts on Saturday morning, was in good physical condition and had few immediate plans beyond spending time with family.

Name:  Chinese activist Xu Zhiyong.jpg
Views: 14
Size:  21.2 KB

At the height of Xu's activism, he attracted hundreds of supporters who participated in activities related to the movement, having first gained prominence in 2003 for helping victims of tainted baby formula and migrant workers without access to healthcare and education.

It prompted a crackdown from the Communist Party, which swiftly crushes any perceived challenge to its rule.

"The idea of the New Citizens Movement is not to overthrow, but to establish," he wrote in a 2010 essay. "It's not one social class displacing another social class, but allowing righteousness to take its place in China."

Xu refused to defend himself in his 2014 trial, and remained silent as a way to protest what Zhang said was a controlled legal process where a guilty outcome was a foregone conclusion.