Beijing authorities barred jailed activist Xu Zhiyong from meeting with his lawyer Thursday, in what his supporters say is an escalation of an ongoing crackdown against civic organizers across China.
Attorney Liu Weiguo arrived Thursday morning at the Number Three Detention Center in Beijing, where Xu was detained on Tuesday, for the first visit to his client. He was asked to file a visitation request, which was turned down.
Instead of leaving, he decided to spend all day waiting.
“They told me he had been taken away, but I was there since the morning and didn’t see anybody coming in and out, nor did I see any policemen applying for permission to remove him,” he said.
Liu said some 20 friends and citizens who Xu helped in the past gathered at the facility to protest.
Assets disclosure campaign
Xu was formally detained July 16 by Beijing Municipal Public Security on charges of ‘gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place.’
Lawyer Liu rejects the charge and blames the authorities for acting illegally.
“He was at home and forbidden to go out for at least 70 days. How could he possibly commit a crime if he has no freedom?” he asked.
Teng Biao, friend and fellow activist lawyer, said Xu had been under house arrest since mid-April, and had a feeling something was about to happen.
“Many citizens who were asking for assets disclosure have been put under arrest since the end of March, more than 10 people, so we had a premonition that Xu Zhiyong would end up like this,” he said.
Xu started a social initiative called New Citizen Movement last year. The group, which seeks to promote legal reforms and asks for government officials to publicly disclose their financial assets, gathered thousands of signatures to their petition and staged demonstrations in several cities.
Earlier this year, though, authorities began to crack down. Activists’ homes have been raided by the police and more than 40 people across China have been put in jail, according to Teng.
Tightening grip on activists
As one of the most prominent anti-corruption activists, Xu’s lawyer says his client is seen by his opponents as someone working to subvert the state, instead of improve it.
Activist Teng agrees. “Authorities don’t accept that they advocate for citizen rights in this way, with their power of assembly and expression. They think they must repress them.”
While activists say they expect the current crackdown on their campaign will continue in the near future, the issue is not going to fade from public consciousness in China.
“The authorities’ behavior can’t disrupt the demand from the bottom for basic civic rights,” said Teng.