Activist critical of President’s Xi’s coronavirus mishandling faces subversion charges

Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong, who called Xi Jinping ‘clueless’ over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo courtesy: Reuters)

(, Mar08’20) – China is holding in secret detention on a state security charge a prominent activist detained for criticising President Xi Jinping’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak and could be jailed for up to 15 years if eventually tried, reported Mar 8, citing his friends.

Chinese police took away Xu Zhiyong, a former law lecturer and founder of the social campaign New Citizens Movement, on Feb 15 during a fresh crackdown on freedom of speech precipitated by the coronavirus crisis.

Thanks to the Chinese government’s suppression of information and crackdown on whistleblowers during the early stage of the infection’s outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, the epidemic that is now known as Corvid-19 spread rapidly not only throughout China but is now also raging across the world with devastating potential consequences to people’s health and global economy.

Citing friends Teng Biao, a legal academic, and fellow activist Hua Ze, the report said Xu’s family had found out from Beijing police on Mar 7 that he had been held in secret detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power” and was being denied access to a lawyer.

They have said Xu had been placed in “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of solitary detention that could last up to six months in an unknown location without lawyer or family access.

China is known to have held many human rights lawyers in this form of secret detention, torturing them for months before formally charging and jailing them on state security crimes.

The report cited fellow activist Hu Jia as saying Xu’s girlfriend, Li Qiaochu, was also being held in secret detention on the same charge at another unknown location.

Xu had published an essay last month, calling on President Xi to resign for lacking the ability to govern China, citing the coronavirus crisis and the mishandling of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.

“You didn’t authorise the truth to be released, and the outbreak turned into a national disaster,” Xu was quoted as having written. “Whenever you face looming crisis, you’re clueless … Mr Xi Jinping, please step down.”

The now US-based Teng is said to fear that Xu’s detention will end in a lengthy jail term because he had previously been jailed and the authorities tend to punish repeated offenders harshly.

The report noted that Xu, who started activism in 2003 with Teng as PhD graduates, was jailed in Jan 2014 for four years on the charge of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” after writing an open letter critical of Xi and for staging protests for equal rights for migrant children and official transparency over private assets.


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