Tibet groups join call for Chinese legal scholar-activist’s release

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Originally published by Tibetan Review on January 23, 2014


(TibetanReview.net, Jan23, 2014) As China prepared to try legal scholar and accountable governance activist Mr Xu Zhiyong in Beijing on Jan 22 for allegedly “gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place,” rights groups have called for his immediate freedom if China was serious about addressing the corruption issue. Xu, who has also called on China’s top officials to reveal their wealth, could be jailed for up to five years if convicted. Xu is also well known for his vocal and learned criticism of his government’s policies on the Tibet issue and a global coalition of Tibet campaigners has also joined the clamour for his release.


Xu, who has been in detention since Jul 2013, wrote an article in May 2012, titled China Needs a New Citizens’ Movement, which is credited with spurring a loose network of activists who aimed to promote government transparency and expose corruption. Noting this, London-based rights group Amnesty International Jan 21 called for the scholar-activist’s immediate release.


“Instead of President Xi Jinping’s promised clamp-down on corruption, we are seeing a crackdown against those that want to expose it. The persecution of activists associated with the New Citizens Movement has to end,” Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying.


The group noted that dozens of people linked to the New Citizens Movement – however tenuously – had been detained over the past year. Some were prosecuted simply for exercising their rights to assembly and free speech. Five are to be tried during the current week. The organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders has said more than 65 people allegedly connected with the “New Citizens’ Movement” had been criminally detained or subjected to enforced disappearance as of early Dec 2013, with 37 being formally arrested.


Also on Jan 21, International Tibet Network, a global coalition of about 190 Tibet campaign groups, expressed serious concern about Xu’s trial. “Xu Zhiyong is a compassionate, courageous human rights defender, who has the respect and appreciation of Tibetans and supporters for his writings on Tibet,” said Tenzin Jigdal, the coalition’s International Coordinator.


The coalition noted that in Dec 2012, Xu wrote an opinion piece titled “Tibet Is Burning” in the New York Times (Dec 13), describing his attempts to visit the family of a Tibetan self-immolation protestor named Nangdrol. Xu concluded that piece by saying, “I am sorry we Han Chinese have been silent as Nangdrol and his fellow Tibetans are dying for freedom. We are victims ourselves, living in estrangement, infighting, hatred and destruction. We share this land. It’s our shared home, our shared responsibility, our shared dream — and it will be our shared deliverance.”


Xu is a founder of Beijing-based think tank “Gongmeng” (or Open Constitution Initiative), which conducted an independent investigation of the uprising protests which engulfed most of the Tibetan plateau in Mar-Apr 2008. The finding challenged the Chinese government’s claim that the Dalai Lama incited the protests while presenting evidence to show that they resulted from failures of Beijing’s policies. It recommended that China’s leadership “Earnestly listen to the voices of ordinary Tibetans and on the basis of respecting and protecting each of the Tibetan people’s rights and interests, adjust policy and thinking in Tibetan areas to formulate development policies which are suited to the characteristics of Tibetan areas, and which accord with the wishes of the Tibetan people.”


With regard to his current trial, Radio Free Asia (Washington) Jan 17 cited Beijing police as saying Xu had hung banners calling for asset disclosure and equal access to education, creating “serious disturbances in public order in public places,” and that he interfered with the work of public security officials.


Earlier, in 2009, China arrested Xu for alleged tax evasion, a move made by the authorities to disrupt his work in a legal aid organization that represented politically sensitive cases. He was released after spending about a month in jail.

Xu, a teacher at the Beijing Postal University, has also served as a delegate to the Beijing’s Haidian district-level legislature. He was also active in fighting for the rights of the children of migrant workers to be educated and to sit exams in the capital.

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Last updated on Jan 23, 2014 10:54:58

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