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China Begins Trial of Dissident Xu Zhiyong Despite International Objections

Xu Zhiyong.

Xu Zhiyong (Source: Human Rights in China).

Prominent Chinese legal scholar and human rights activist Xu Zhiyong (许志永) will go on trial January 22 on charges of disrupting public order. A founder of the pro-democracy New Citizens’ Movement (中国新公民运动) and an outspoken advocate of greater transparency in Chinese government, Xu has been detained since July 2013. Xu and his lawyers believe that a guilty verdict is all but certain, and will result in up to five years’ imprisonment.

Xu’s trial begins despite strong international objections. The European Union’s outgoing ambassador to China, Markus Ederer, said in a farewell press conference January 17 that the EU is “concerned on the overall tightening of the human rights situation” in China “and especially about the trials of members of the New Citizens Movement, in particular Xu Zhiyong.” The U.S. State Department issued statements objecting to Xu’s detention in August and December 2013. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights in China have also called for Xu’s release and for international action on Xu’s behalf.

Noted particularly as an advocate of public disclosure of government officials’ financial assets, Xu was listed among the “leading global thinkers of 2013” by Foreign Policy magazine. Previously detained in 2009, Xu was released along with Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti (detained again last week) as the result of pressure from the Obama administration prior to President Obama’s visit to China that year. While these events show that Beijing is subject to international pressure on human rights concerns, the cycle of arrest, release, and re-arrest of dissidents also reveals a cat-and-mouse game in which Beijing constantly seeks to get away with whatever abuses it can, whenever it can.

“China needs a new citizens’ movement,” Xu wrote in the movement’s founding essay in 2012, “This movement is a political movement in which this ancient nation bids utter farewell to authoritarianism and completes the civilized transformation to constitutional governance; it is a social movement to completely destroy the privileges of corruption, the abuse of power, the gap between rich and poor, and to construct a new order of fairness and justice; it is a cultural movement to bid farewell to the culture of autocrats and subjects and instead create a new nationalist spirit; it is the peaceful progressive movement to herald humanity’s process of civilizing…. The goal of the New Citizens’ Movement is a free China ruled by democracy and law, a just and happy civil society with ‘freedom, righteousness, love’ as the new national spirit.”

This essay and other writings by Xu Zhiyong may be found in the original Chinese at Xu’s blog, where he last posted on July 11, 2013, prior to his arrest. Xu was also active on Twitter (@zhiyongxu), where he last posted on July 12. FreeWeibo is currently monitoring censored Chinese microblog posts on Xu’s case.

English translations of Xu’s essays and Xu’s written account of his “talks” with Beijing’s public security chief prior to his detention, among other materials on Xu’s case, may be found at China Change. Extensive coverage of Xu’s case at Human Rights in China includes an English translation of Xu’s essay, “China Needs a New Citizens’ Movement,” an August 2013 video statement from Xu while under detention, and the full text in English of Xu’s December 2013 indictment on charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Xu’s video statement, with English translation below by Human Rights in China, is a testament to Xu’s sincerity and his dedication to democracy and social justice in China:

“I call on everyone to be a citizen, a forthright citizen who exercises their civil rights guaranteed under the Constitution and fulfills a citizen’s civic duty, promotes educational equality so that children of migrants may take college entrance exams at locations other than their hometowns, and calls for disclosure of officials’ assets. In this absurd era, these are the actions behind the three charges against me. Someone has to pay a price for social progress — I am willing to bear all the costs for freedom, social justice, love, and faith.

“However defeated and absurd this society is, this country needs courageous citizens to stand up, to keep faith, and to take rights, responsibilities, and dreams seriously. I am proud to put the word ‘citizen’ in front of my name. I hope everyone will do the same — to put the word ‘citizen’ in front of your name. As long as we unite and strive together to take the rights of citizens seriously, take citizenship seriously, and jointly promote democracy, rule of law, equality, and justice in our country, we will be able to build a beautiful China of freedom, social justice, and love.”

Xu Zhiyong deserves the world’s support for his courageous work on behalf of democracy and human rights in China, and the Chinese government deserves the world’s condemnation for his sham trial and unjust imprisonment.



Mark C. Eades

Mark C. Eades is an Asia-based writer, educator, and independent researcher. Located in Shanghai, China from 2009 to 2015, he now splits his time between the United States and various locations in Asia. He has spent a total of seven years in China since his first visit in 1991, and has taught at Fudan University, Shanghai International Studies University, and in the private sector in Shanghai. He is also widely traveled throughout East and Southeast Asia. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science and a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University with extensive coursework in Asia-Pacific studies. His previous publications include articles on China and Sino-US relations in U.S. News & World Report, Asia Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and Atlantic Community. Twitter: @MC_Eades

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