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China: Public interest organization director detained by police for 7 days without explanation

Posted by Author on August 4, 2009

Human Rights in China, August 04, 2009 –

Seven days after Xu Zhiyong (许志永), the director of Gongmeng, a public interest organization in Beijing, was taken away by State Security of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, there is still no official explanation for his detention. According to unofficial reports, Xu Zhiyong is being detained on tax evasion charges and is currently being held at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.

Gongmeng, also known as Open Constitution Initiative (OCI), is an organization set up to provide legal consultation and assistance to the public. Despite the public-interest nature of its work, Gongmeng has registered as a for-profit company in order to operate independent of government control. Under Chinese regulations, all civil society organizations must be supervised by a high-level government unit, an arrangement that effectively puts them under direct government control. On July 17, the Chinese authorities shut down Gongmeng’s Law Research Center, citing its failure to register with the government. Three days earlier, tax authorities had notified Gongmeng that they would be fined 1.42 million yuan ($208,000) for tax violations. Gongmeng’s website has also been shut down by the authorities.

Xu Zhiyong, 36, is a professor at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and was a representative of Beijing’s Haidian District at the Thirteenth and Fourteenth People’s Congress. In October 2003, he, Yu Jiang, Zhang Xing Shui, and Teng Biao founded Gongmeng with the goal of advancing the rule of law and social justice, and promoting civil rights defense activities. Its high effectiveness has gained it the moniker the “cradle” of China’s rights defense lawyers. It recently provided continuous legal assistance to the victims of the Sanlu tainted milk scandal in their damages compensation lawsuit.

Xu Zhiyong was born in Minquan County, Henan Province. Having resolved in middle school to devote himself to public service, he earned his Bachelor of Law and Master of Law degrees at Lanzhou University. He later entered Peking University Law School, where he gained a doctorate. His pursuit of rights defense issues has included many famous cases: in 2003, Xu Zhiyong, Yu Jiang, and Teng Biao petitioned the People’s Congress in the Sun Zhigang incident,1 and one month later, the custody and forced repatriation procedure was abolished. Xu Zhiyong also defended the legal rights and interests of privately-run enterprises in the Sun Dawu2 case and represented Chen Guoqing3 from Chengde in a nine-year-long case of deferred death sentence. Unafraid of violence, he has persisted in investigating “black jails” used to lock up government petitioners.

Human Rights in China urges the international community to scrutinize the progress of Xu Zhiyong’s case. “It is clear the authorities are using the legal process to harass and prosecute right defense lawyers,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “By suppressing Xu Zhiyong, who is a moderate voice for social change and has dedicated his career to helping forge a society with genuine rule of law, the authorities are running the risk of radicalizing the forces for reform and change in China.”

Human Rights in China

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