Human Rights Defender Xu Zhiyong Charged With "Subversion"

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Human Rights Defender Xu Zhiyong Charged With "Subversion"

On February 15, 2020, China's authorities in Guangzhou arrested human rights defender Xu Zhiyong for promoting human rights in Fujian province and calling for top government officials to disclose their income. Xu is indicted for “subversion,” alongside fellow human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi. Xu is one of China's most influential activists and advocates for human rights. In addition, he was a co-founder of the banned Open Constitution Initiative and the New Citizens' Movement. Hours after the police abducted Xu, his girlfriend, Li Qiaochu, a labor rights, human rights, and women’s rights defender, was also disappeared. In January 2020, authorities ransacked Xu’s home, detained Li for 24 hours, and denied her much needed medicine in the detention center.

Human Rights Watch and others urge Chinese authorities to "immediately and unconditionally release" Xu Zhiyong. According to human rights defender Yaqiu Wang, “President Xi Jinping claims the government is ‘open’ and ‘transparent,’ but the authorities have without basis detained one of the country’s best-known anti-corruption advocates, ... Instead of arbitrarily detaining Xu Zhiyong and other human rights activists, the Chinse government should listen to what they have to say.” In late December 2019, Chinese authorities began to arresting participants of a December 7 and 8 human rights gathering in Xiamen, Fujian province. On December 26, in what has become known as the 12.26 crackdown, authorities abducted the influential human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, scholar Zhang Zhongshun, and human rights defenders Dai Zhenya and Li Yingjun. According to HRW, Xu has been "traveling to different cities, updating his Twitter account, and criticizing the government’s authoritarian rule and its mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak".


Police accused the human rights defenders detained in December of “inciting subversion” and placed them under “residential surveillance in a designated location,” a new form of enforced disappearance in which victims are left in an unknown location. This places victims outside of the formal detention system and denies them legal counsel, visits from family members, and enhances the probability of torture and mistreatment. Wang says, “Governments are increasingly recognizing that they pay a price for Beijing’s hostility toward peaceful criticism, and should press China to release Xu immediately.” Xu faces a potential punishment of life in prison if convicted.

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