Authorities in Beijing have detained at least three activists who held up banners in a public square demanding that top government officials publicly declare their family assets, according to one of the detainees’ lawyers. From Raymond Li at the South China Morning Post:
Liang said his client, Yuan Dong, was taken into police custody along with three other activists for criminal investigation after they held banners in the Xidan Culture Square in Beijing’s Xicheng district on Sunday afternoon calling for greater disclosure of officials’ assets to improve the transparency of governance and combat official corruption.
Yuan, 45, was being held in the Beijing No3 Detention Centre along with two other activists, Zhang Baocheng and Ma Xinli, Liang said, but the whereabouts of the fourth activist, Hou Xin, was unknown.
Beijing police did not respond to an inquiry about the detentions yesterday.
The activists’ street campaign is part of a broader civil campaign launched in December calling for top government officials to declare their assets publicly to help fight rampant official corruption.
The issue has simmered since last year, when some officials at the 18th Party Congress told foreign reporters that they would be open to the idea as a way to curb corruption. It also became a popular Weibo topic after Global Times Chief Editor Hu Xijin addressed financial disclosure on his own microblog.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch urged the government to release the activists, calling the detentions “the harshest action yet against activists involved in a grass-roots campaign to press the government to honor its promise to fight corruption:”
“The detention of four anti-corruption activists calls into question President Xi Jinping’s commitment to get tough on graft,” said Sophie Richardson, China director, “The government’s treatment of these activists is a litmus test about whether Xi’s campaign to end China’s corruption epidemic is more than mere rhetoric and a few show cases.”
Police in Beijing arrested the activists – Hou Xin, Yuan Dong, Zhang Baocheng and Ma Xinli – on March 31, 2013. The four were displaying large banners with slogans such as “require officials to publicly disclose assets” and “unless we put an end to corrupt officials, the China Dream can only be daydreams.” The activists also gave a speech about the need to address corruption in Xidan Cultural Plaza in Beijing’s Xicheng District.
Police arrested them for “illegal assembly,” which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Yuan, Zhang, and Ma are being held in Beijing’s No. 3 Detention Center, while Hou is in No. 1 Detention Center. Under Chinese law, anyone accused of a crime is entitled to a lawyer within 48 hours of being taken into police custody. The police may detain a person for 37 days before they are required to obtain permission from the prosecutor’s office for a formal arrest.