Chinese civil rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong releases book amid likely court rebuff

Xu Zhiyong describes how he became involved in activism and lays out vision for a new China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 4:38am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 12:35pm

Prominent civil rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong will release his autobiography today, as a Beijing court rules on his appeal against charges of disrupting public order, for which he was convicted in January.

To Be a Citizen, published by Hong-Kong based New Century Press, sheds light on the activist's upbringing and his vision of a free China. "1987 was an important beginning for me," Xu wrote, adding that at 14, he swapped his dream of becoming a Nobel Prize-winning biologist for one of public service. "That winter I realised what our society needs is truth, liberty, and justice. I needed to work hard to make the world a better place."

Xu, 41, coined the term New Citizens Movement - which he was involved in founding - in a series of essays in 2012 that called for fairness and transparency.

Watch: Xu Zhiyong's speaks out from jail

In January, Beijing's No1 Intermediate People's Court convicted Xu after a one-day trial of "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place" after he was accused of organising protests last year calling for public disclosure of government officials' personal assets. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang , said yesterday that he did not expect the court to reverse the verdict at today's appeal.

The autobiography is divided into three parts. In part one, Xu writes about his early life and his experiences on the path to social and political consciousness. Part two discusses Xu's vision of a democratic China and the necessary power structure, including a presidential system, a supreme court, a national army and political parties. The last part contains a series of writings, including Xu's last court statement and an open letter to President Xi Jinping .

Teng Biao , a fellow rights lawyer and the editor of the book, calls the public discussions on how to solve social problems like corruption, wealth disparity and education inequality - inspired by the New Citizens Movement - "practising democracy". Many members of the movement had hoped that the new leaders, particularly Xi, would be more open to calls for reform.

I am willing to pay all the costs for freedom, social justice, love and faith
Lawyer Xu Zhiyong

But when some members took to the streets with signs condemning corruption and injustice, authorities began arresting and detaining people in several large cities. Xu was accused of being the leader of the protests.

"Whatever hopes we had about Xi were completely shattered," Teng said.

Xu, who was born in Minquan [civil rights] county in Henan province, was no ordinary rights lawyer. "He didn't just give legal advice to the underprivileged, he didn't just do research" Teng said. "He wanted to experience it, he slept in underpasses and lived liked them."

During Xu's speedy trial, in which the court refused to summon prosecution witnesses for cross-examination and rejected the defendant's request to summon witnesses, Xu sat calmly and only asked to read a closing statement, during which the court cut him off, citing irrelevance.

Xu was prepared for his conviction. "Someone has to pay a price for social progress - I am willing to bear all the costs for freedom, social justice, love and faith," Xu said from his detention centre last August.

Teng said there was a simple motif underlining all of Xu's work - love for the world that borders on spirituality.

"He loved his country, he loved people and he loved freedom," Teng said. "Despite one-party rule, little or no press freedom and suppression of people's rights, he continued to fight for a better society."