HUMAN RIGHTS

Activist Xu Zhiyong's arrest prompts new crackdown fears

Xu Zhiyong most prominent of 40 campaigners for official accountability recently detained

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 5:29am

Beijing police have taken prominent activist and legal scholar Xu Zhiyong into custody, his lawyer said yesterday, sparking fears that the government is escalating its crackdown on activists who have called on officials to publically declare their assets.

Lawyer Liu Weiguo said Xu was taken on Tuesday from his home, where he had been confined since April 12 under extralegal detention. His wife, who is several months pregnant, received a notification that night saying Xu was being held at a police detention centre on a charge of "gathering a crowd to disturb order in public places", Liu said. "It is difficult to imagine how a man without freedom could be accused of this."

It is difficult to imagine how a man without freedom could be accused of this
Lawyer Liu Weiguo

The charge carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

Xu has been detained or placed under house arrest without charge numerous times since 2009 for his civil rights campaigns. His most recent confinement began in April, days after four activists were detained for staging a protest in central Beijing calling on senior party officials to disclose their assets.

The detained activists, along with dozens of others in the broader accountability campaign, were members of the New Citizen social initiative founded by Xu.

Liu believed Xu's detention was related to the campaign.

According to Liu, Xu said officials had called him in several times recently and told him to give up his activism.

Beijing's Public Security Bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

Xu's close friend, legal scholar Teng Biao , said Xu's detention was the latest arrest in a round-up of more than 40 activists across the country who had been involved in the campaign for official accountability.

Teng said other rights campaigns that Xu led in recent years had made him a target for police.

The nationwide New Citizen social initiative has pushed for democracy, rule of law and basic civil rights. Xu has also called for equal education rights for migrant children in Beijing.

Teng feared that Xu, his former classmate at law school, would be sent to jail.

"He's been a prominent civil rights figure since 2003," Teng said. "Xu's been preparing for this outcome for quite a while."

Speaking under house arrest last year, Xu told the South China Morning Post that he was not afraid of jail.

"If the world is to become a better place, then someone has to pay a price," he said.

"I think it's a glorious thing to sacrifice for the sake of social progress and fighting injustice."

In 2009 authorities closed Xu's non-profit legal aid centre, the Open Constitution Initiative, and detained Xu for nearly a month.

When he was released, Xu was barred from returning to teaching at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

Since launching the New Citizen initiative in May last year, Xu has complained of rising police surveillance and interference.