China Continues to Target ‘New Citizens' Movement’ With Arrest of Xu Zhiyong
Freedom House is alarmed by the Chinese authorities’ recent arrest of leading public interest lawyer and human rights defender Xu Zhiyong, and calls for his immediate release and for all charges against him to be dropped. Xu's arrest is part of an ongoing crackdown by authorities against rights defenders and anti-corruption advocates, particularly those involved in the anti-corruption-focused New Citizens' Movement, and points to the government’s intolerance to even moderate levels of dissent. Earlier today Xu's lawyer, Liu Weiguo, was reportedly detained while attempting to visit Xu at a detention center in Beijing.
Xu, a former member of the People’s Congress in Beijing and founder of the now-banned NGO, ‘Open Constitution Initiative,’ was arrested on July 16 by public transportation police on charges of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order” in a public place. According to his wife, he has been under house arrest for the last three months. His arrest though is likely linked to his involvement with the New Citizens' Movement, an initiative urging public officials to disclose their wealth. Xu has been a frequent target by authorities in the past, including several brief detentions.
Authorities have targeted the New Citizens' Movement, with more than a dozen members arrested and several set to face trial. On July 12, two members of the movement were detained in Beijing. If charges are upheld against Xu, he could face several years in prison.
China is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom of the Press 2013, and Freedom of the Net 2012. The Chinese Communist Party maintains a tight grip on political power, depriving citizens of the right to elect leaders and hold the government accountable for its misdeeds. Xi Jinping was selected in November 2012 to serve as the new Communist Party leader, and took over as president starting in March 2013. The actions of the new party leadership during its first months in power have largely disappointed those hoping for meaningful political liberalization. Despite Xi's public calls to fight corruption and abuses of power, activists urging officials to declare their assets or documenting torture have repeatedly faced harassment and arrest.
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Photo Credit: Adam Sidman