Chinese authorities must end their callous assault against human rights activists and free all those still imprisoned for solely exercising their right to freedom of expression, said Amnesty International, ahead of the expected release of prominent social activist Xu Zhiyong.
Xu Zhiyong is due to be released from prison on Saturday, 15 July after completing a four year jail sentence. In January 2014, he was convicted of “gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place” following more than six months in pre-trial detention.
“Xu Zhiyong’s release is long overdue. His conviction was a sham and he should never have spent a single day in jail for simply exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International.
In recent years, activists have been released from prison, or on bail, only to find themselves under intense surveillance and round-the-clock monitoring by unidentified security personnel or thugs.
“The authorities must not continue to harass or intimidate Xu Zhiyong or his family, and instead let him again enjoy the freedom that was unjustly taken from him.”
Xu Zhiyong was a central figure in the “New Citizens Movement”, a grassroots political, cultural and social network that the authorities targeted in a crackdown during 2013 and 2014. The movement peacefully advocated for greater government transparency, the rule of law and an end to corruption.
A highly regarded legal scholar, Xu Zhiyong wrote an article in May 2012 credited with spurring the movement and creating its mission.
The crackdown against the New Citizens Movement was the first clear sign that President Xi Jinping would show zero tolerance to those who questioned the government. Four years on, it has only escalated the attacks and harassment against those legitimately exercising their human rights.
More than 65 people who were allegedly connected with the movement were targeted in the nationwide sweep in 2013. Fourteen were convicted and sentenced to jail terms ranging from one and a half years to six and a half years.
Activists Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were both sentenced to six andahalfyears in June 2014, primarily for organizing an anti-corruption event. Both were convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement.” At her trial, Liu Ping stated she was tortured in pre-trial detention.
“The convictions against Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping are ludicrous. They are Prisoners of Conscience, as was Xu Zhiyong, held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Their imprisonment underscores the hypocrisy of the Chinese government when it comes to fighting corruption,” said Patrick Poon.