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Xu Zhiyong

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Xǔ Zhìyǒng | 许志永

Xu Zhiyong (b. 1973) is a Chinese legal scholar and rights activist. He is best known for organizing the New Citizens' Movement in China.

Xu Zhiyong studied law at Lanzhou University before obtaining his doctorate in law from Peking University in 2002. He subsequently became a lecturer at a university in Beijing. In 2003, Xu Zhiyong successfully pushed for the abolition of the and repatriation system” along with Teng Biao, Yu Jiang, and several other legal scholars. Xu also launched his political career in the same year by running as an independent candidate in Haidian District, Beijing, becoming a representative at the local People’s Congress. He won reelection in 2006. In 2011, his name was pulled off the candidate list.

Xu helped found the Open Constitution Initiative, also known as Gongmeng, an organization that advocated for greater constitutional protection and implementation of the rule of law. The group was fined and shut down in 2009 on tax evasion charges. In 2012, Xu established the New Citizens’ Movement as the successor to Gongmeng.

Xu has repeatedly been detained or otherwise harassed by the authorities. In July 2013, Xu Zhiyong was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison the following January for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order.” In his closing statement in court, Xu called for open governance and financial disclosure by officials, a statement cut short by the judge. In May 2020, Xu was formally arrested after months of detention on the charge of inciting subversion. His charge was later upgraded to subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. His partner Li Qiaochu, a labor and women’s rights activist, was also arrested on subversion charges. Li previously alleged that Xu was tortured in jail.

Amid the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in January 2020, Xu Zhiyong issued an open letter calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to resign. China’s State Council Information Office issued a directive to have the letter deleted from the internet.


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