The United States on Thursday called on China to release a human rights lawyer who has campaigned against government corruption, saying it appeared he was being penalised for his activism.
Xu Zhiyong, a lecturer at Beijing university, was held by police on Tuesday for “disturbing order in a public place,” according to his friend and fellow attorney Teng Biao, who reported the detention on Wednesday on a Twitter account.
“We call on Chinese authorities to release Xu immediately, cease any restrictions on his freedom of movement and guarantee him the protections and freedoms to which he is entitled under China’s international human rights commitments,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
“The United States government is concerned that he is being prosecuted as retribution for his public campaign to expose official malfeasance and for the peaceful expression of his views,” she said.
Xu is a “leading public advocate for fiscal transparency and fighting official corruption,” she added.
Rights groups called Xu’s arrest the latest episode in a crackdown on political activists launched after President Xi Jinping was formally appointed in March.
At least 24 activists have been detained since late March, US-based advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a statement.
Chinese citizens are regularly scandalized by reports of corrupt officials living lavish lifestyles, leading to calls for laws requiring government officials to publicly list their assets.
US criticism of China’s human rights record often draws the ire of officials in Beijing, who denounce it as interference in the country’s internal affairs.