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China continues to crack
down on prominent lawyers and human rights activists and NGOs affiliated with
them. Most recently, prosecutors have charged one of China's leading public
interest lawyers, Xu Zhiyong, with tax evasion. If convicted, he could face
seven years in prison.
Mr. Xu, thirty-six, is a founder of the Open Constitution Initiative, a nonprofit group that often takes on high-profile cases involving ordinary citizens' civil rights. It has challenged China's so-called "black jails," the illegal detention centers some local officials have reportedly used to detain and intimidate petitioning citizens. The organization has also campaigned for the rights of migrant workers and death-row inmates, and helped parents of babies poisoned during last year's tainted milk scandal seek legal redress. The Chinese government shut down the Open Constitution Initiative center on July 17th and police arrested Mr. Xu on July 29th.
Many observers say the charges against Mr. Xu are politically motivated and part of a growing effort by security officials to shut down independent activism, especially groups funded from abroad. The Chinese government has blocked many foreign-based Web sites and social-networking services. It also disbarred about fifty lawyers earlier this year.
About the same time Mr. Xu was arrested, Chinese police raided the Beijing YirenpingCenter, another non-governmental organization, which works to fight discrimination against Hepatitis B patients and HIV carriers. Authorities accused the NGO of illegal publishing.
In the meantime, Gao Zhisheng, one of China's foremost human rights lawyers, was detained for a second time in February 2009 and has not been heard from since. Another of China's most prominent political dissidents Liu Xiaobo has been held virtually incommunicado in Beijing since December.
Chinese human rights activists should not be harassed, detained, or tortured by Chinese authorities for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression. As President Barack Obama said, "Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state. ... An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people."