Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Campaigner for Reform in China Is Detained ; Advocate Who Pressed Officials to Reveal Wealth Is Latest in Wave of Arrests

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Campaigner for Reform in China Is Detained ; Advocate Who Pressed Officials to Reveal Wealth Is Latest in Wave of Arrests

Article excerpt

Xu Zhiyong, a legal scholar, had asked officials to disclose their personal wealth. He was accused of disrupting order in a public place, though his family said he had been under house arrest.

The police in Beijing have detained one of China's most prominent rights advocates, the latest in a succession of arrests that critics said showed the Communist Party's determination to silence campaigners who have challenged the party to act on its vows to expose official corruption and respect the rule of law.

The advocate, Xu Zhiyong, was held by the public transport police on Tuesday on charges of "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place," although he has been under informal house arrest for more than three months, his wife, Cui Zheng, confirmed by telephone on Wednesday. Liu Weiguo, a lawyer whom Mr. Xu had earlier asked to represent him, said he was baffled that Mr. Xu, a legal scholar accustomed to police pressure, could be accused of evading his guards and starting a public ruckus.

"As I understand it, he has been under house arrest for 70 or 80 days or longer, so how could it be possible for him to engage in so- called disruption of public order? It's mystifying," Mr. Liu said. He said he hoped to meet Mr. Xu on Thursday to clarify the allegations, which, if taken to trial, could bring a maximum penalty of five years in prison. "Many of his friends feel shocked that someone as mild, restrained and softly spoken as he can't be tolerated," Mr. Liu said.

If Mr. Xu is held for long, supporters say, his case is likely to attract wider attention as a test of China's beleaguered "rights defense" movement, which he helped build. That loose network of lawyers, scholars and advocates has sought to use litigation, publicity and petitions to secure political and social rights. Recently, Mr. Xu has promoted a "New Citizens' Movement," demanding that officials disclose their wealth. Other participants in that campaign have been arrested, and some may soon stand trial.

"To arrest someone like him will have a big social impact and impose a heavy price on the authorities, especially if he's tried and convicted -- and that seems possible," Guo Yushan, a friend of Mr. Xu and an early collaborator in his rights efforts, said by telephone.

"He has been a moderate, arguing for opportunities to work for change within the system," said Mr. Guo, the head of the Transition Institute, a research group in Beijing that advocates political and economic liberalization. "But it looks like the authorities are determined to act, despite the price. We can all feel the pressure. I've also been under house arrest for the past two weeks."

Mr. Xu's supporters said his detention was reprisal for his role in the campaign demanding that officials disclose their wealth, an idea that some officials have also endorsed, albeit in more cautious terms. …

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