Crackdown on Anti-Corruption Activists Continues

Chinese authorities detained four more anti-corruption activists last week, according to human rights groups, expanding a crackdown that began several weeks ago and which runs counter to new president ’s push to curb corruption within the Communist Party. From Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times:

The men arrested last week include Zhao Changqing, a advocate who has been jailed several times in the past; Ding Jiaxi, a human rights lawyer; and two activists, Sun Hanhui and Wang Yonghong. All four are being held at No. 3 Center, lawyers for the men said.

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a nongovernmental organization based in Washington, the whereabouts of two other activists, Qi Yueying and Li Wei, were unknown on Friday.

Liang Xiaojun, a lawyer who represents several of those detained, said prison officials would allow him to see only one of the detainees, claiming that the others were still being interrogated by the police. “I doubt this case will go through normal procedures,” he said. “Can you imagine a trial for a group of activists who demanded that government officials disclose their assets? I don’t see that trial happening.”

Analysts say the crackdown on dissent, coupled with newly announced media restrictions and the absence of any new anticorruption initiatives, are gnawing away at any hopes that Mr. Xi will embrace the rule of law and clean government.

The issue of 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  on his own microblog.

One rights lawyer told Voice of America that the family of one of the activists, prominent human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, received official notice last Thursday that he had been detained the previous evening:

Li says the activists have been charged because of their participation in a street campaign calling on officials to disclose their assets.

“It’s hard to say what is going to happen. Administrative detention can be expanded up to 37 days,” he said. “Then there will be an investigation and then a trial. How long this all will take depends on how important they consider the case to be.”

Xu Zhiyong, another prominent rights lawyer in China, is founder of the New Citizens Movement – a group that seeks to promote social justice, political and legal reforms. He is being held under what he called “illegal house arrest” and spoke to VOA by phone Friday.

“Up until yesterday, eight people who advocate asset disclosure by officials have been detained,” he said. “They have been accused of illegal gathering, but we believe this is illegal, because citizens have the right to assemble and demonstrate freely.”

The latest round of detentions came just before Xi Jinping addressed a group of Politburo members last Friday about the country’s anti-corruption efforts, according to Xinhua News. In a South China Morning Post opinion piece published Monday, Chinese writer and journalist Xiao Shu claimed that Xi’s administration “is sending very contradictory signals about its commitment to the rule of law and the fight against corruption.”

What is the long-term interest of the Communist Party? I would argue that it is in leading China, by means of peaceful transformation, into democracy and national reconciliation. Look no further than Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui, the last two non-democratically elected presidents of Taiwan, who did exactly that for the island. Any other path would be not only self-destructive for the party, but also catastrophic for the whole nation. To transform themselves and transform China, the Communist rulers must open the door to civil movements that will usher in a civil society.

In this sense, activists like Xu Zhiyong, Wang Gongquan and Ding Jiaxi are not only heroes of civil movements, but also champions of public interest and allies of the Communist Party. In his push for the rule of law and war on corruption, Xi is coming up against the powerful special interest groups within his party, and has no chance of winning without soliciting the help of a strong civil society.

The persecution against these activists thus can be seen as an effort by the special-interest groups to sabotage Xi’s reforms. They were successful in the past 10 years, during the rule of Hu and Wen – the security apparatus launched a series of stifling blows against the burgeoning civil movements. In doing so, they also tamed and manipulated then top leaders including Hu and Wen, turning their “golden decade” into one of the biggest political jokes in modern Chinese history. Whether they will succeed again in Xi‘s time remains to be seen.

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