Arrest of activist seen as part of widening crackdown on dissent

Activist is a staunch supporter of one of the mainland's best known rights campaigners, the founder of the New Citizen movement

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 4:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 4:47am

Wang Gongquan, an influential advocate for greater civic involvement on the mainland, has been formally arrested for disturbing public order, his lawyer said yesterday - the latest in what activists see as the authorities' widening crackdown on government critics.

Beijing's prosecuting authorities on Sunday approved the 52-year-old businessman's arrest on a charge of "gathering a crowd to disturb order in public places", his lawyer Chen Youxi told the South China Morning Post. He declined to elaborate.

Calls to the Beijing No. 2 People's Procuratorate went unanswered.

Wang, a staunch supporter of arrested legal scholar Xu Zhiyong , was detained in mid-September.

Xu, the founder of the New Citizen civil rights movement and one of the mainland's best known civil rights campaigners, was detained on the same charge in mid-July and formally arrested in late August. Wang helped initiate a signature campaign calling for his release.

The nationwide New Citizen initiative, which pushes for democracy, rule of law and basic civil rights, appeared to have touched a raw nerve with the authorities. At least 18 involved in the movement have been detained or arrested since April. One of its landmark campaigns was the call for officials to publicly declare their assets.

Critics say the arrests of Wang, Xu and other outspoken figures of the movement including three in Jiangxi province is part of a broader crackdown on activists who have been calling for officials to declare their wealth. The three, Liu Ping , Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua , will be the first to go on trial, lawyers have said.

Another activist involved in the movement, Guo Feixiong , was formally arrested last month although his family learned about it only last week.

Liang Xiaojun , a lawyer for a Beijing activist also arrested over calls for transparency in officials' wealth, said he feared repression of the activists was escalating.

"There might be more arrests coming," Liang said.

Rights groups say the latest crackdown on the freedom of expression is targeting activists, journalists and online opinion leaders amid a push by President Xi Jinping to rein in the internet.

"The message of the new leadership could not be more alarming - that in the face of rising social discontent, it appears to be blocking channels for citizen activism rather than addressing the underlying grievances," said Maya Wang, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Wang began his career as an employee of the provincial propaganda department of Jilin in Changchun and worked for a state-owned exporter before becoming a venture capitalist in 1990. He joined a protest to win the release of detained petitioners from a "black jail" in 2011.

Human Rights Watch said the surge in arrests might be linked with a notice from the Supreme People's Procuratorate targeting crimes that "endanger national security".