BEIJING — Chinese authorities have detained eight anti-corruption activists over their participation in a signature drive that calls on central government officials to disclose their assets. Although there is widespread public support for officials to disclose such information, government efforts to promote the policy appear to be slowing.
Rights lawyers in Beijing say the activists have been taken into custody in recent days on suspicion of unlawful assembly.
Authorities have confiscated their laptop computers, video cameras, mobile phones and other items.
Ding Jiaxi, a prominent human rights lawyer, was detained late Wednesday evening, says fellow rights lawyer Li Fangping.
“Last night [Thursday] around 7:00 p.m., his family received official notice from the police in Beijing, that he is now under administrative detention,” he said.
Ding and other activists, all members of the New Citizens Movement are being held at a detention center in Beijing. Li says one activist is receiving medical treatment. Authorities at the detention center were not able to be reached for comment
Li says the activists have been charged because of their participation in a street campaign calling on officials to disclose their assets.
“It's hard to say what is going to happen. Administrative detention can be expanded up to 37 days,” he said. “Then there will be an investigation and then a trial. How long this all will take depends on how important they consider the case to be.”
Xu Zhiyong, another prominent rights lawyer in China, is founder of the New Citizens Movement - a group that seeks to promote social justice, political and legal reforms. He is being held under what he called “illegal house arrest” and spoke to VOA by phone Friday.
“Up until yesterday, eight people who advocate asset disclosure by officials have been detained,” he said. “They have been accused of illegal gathering, but we believe this is illegal, because citizens have the right to assemble and demonstrate freely.”
Xu says other activists have also been harassed. He says this will not keep them from making their demands, which he calls completely normal.
“It is the trend of the times and civilized government all require assets disclosure,” he said. “In China it's a secret and they don't let citizens be informed, this is not normal at all.”
More than 7,000 Chinese activists, scholars, lawyers and businessmen have signed the petition that was launched late last year. Shortly after Xi Jinping began his transition to power, there was a resurgence of calls for officials to disclose their assets.
President Xi pledged to go after corrupt officials, no matter how high- or low-ranking they are. Many see asset disclosure as a way of helping stem the problem of official graft.
Three districts in the southern province of Guangdong were supposed to begin requiring officials to disclose their assets last month, but that program appears to now be on hold.
Ni Xing, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou says that although there was talk of beginning assets disclosure programs last month, all has gone quiet.
Ni says that even Guangzhou was proposing a few weeks ago that it would randomly select 15 percent of its officials to have their assets disclosed. But lately, there has been little mention of the topic of assets disclosure.
“I think that the Communist Party want to keep this fight against corruption within the system. It asks the system to be efficient but it doesn't want to be exposed to the public and to be under pressure from the public to reform,” he said.
The Communist Party says its fight against corruption is a life or death struggle, but it does not like giving the public too much say in that process and stresses that the power to fight corruption has to be in its own hands.