Chinese Lawyer's Arrest Undermines Efforts to Build Rule of Law

Washington

The Chinese Communist Party's decision to arrest prominent attorney Xu Zhiyong represents the latest stage in its campaign to counter efforts by Chinese lawyers to build the rule of law and hold the government to account.

Xu's family learned last week that he was arrested on July 29 for alleged tax evasion, a charge he denies. The government shuttered and confiscated files from the legal aid organization he founded, the Open Constitution Initiative, earlier in the month. Xu and his colleagues are known for defending the victims of last year's tainted milk scandal and for commissioning a report that criticized the government's policies in Tibet.

"While rhetorically extolling the virtues of the rule of law, China's communist leaders have targeted another attorney who has done nothing more than use the legal system they set up to seek justice for ordinary Chinese citizens," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director.  "If party leaders want to show they are serious about building the rule of law, they should immediately release Xu, reinstate dozens of lawyers who were recently disbarred, and allow them to do their work without government harassment or persecution."

Xu's arrest and the recent disbarment of 53 lawyers is part of a systematic campaign to counter a growing movement in which Chinese citizens are increasingly aware of their legal rights and vocal in demanding that the government respect them. In February, security forces abducted attorney and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gao Zhisheng and have yet to reveal his whereabouts. Other lawyers have been assaulted, threatened or fired from their law firms. The net effect has been to highlight the Communist Party’s fear and intolerance of growing "rights consciousness" among the Chinese citizenry as outlined in the Freedom House report, Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians.

"The Obama administration's soft touch with China appears to be emboldening its communist leaders to turn the screws on rights attorneys, even those who are dedicated to reforming the system from within," said Windsor. “As bloggers across China are rallying to support Xu, we urge the administration to speak out in defense of those fighting daily to build genuine rule of law."

China is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.

To learn more about China, read:

Freedom in the World 2009: China
Freedom of the Press 2008: China
Undermining Democracy: China
Freedom of Association Under Threat: China

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in China since 1972.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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