China’s ‘most influential’ critic of Xi Jinping arrested, friends say

Professor Xu Zhangrun repeatedly criticised the growing influence of the Communist party

Matt Mathers
Monday 06 July 2020 11:13 BST
Hong Kong: What is happening in the Asian economic hub?

A Chinese legal scholar and vocal critic of the Communist party has been detained by police, according to friends.

Xu Zhangrun, 57, was taken from his house in suburban Beijing on Monday morning by more than 20 policemen, who also searched his house and confiscated his computer, his friends told Reuters. It is unclear where he is being held.

Xu, who once described China’s president Xi Jinping as “clueless”, came to prominence in July 2018 for denouncing the removal of the two-term limit for China's leader, which allows Xi to remain in office beyond his current second term.

A former professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University, Xu was banned from teaching after publishing a series of essays in which he condemned the growing dominance of the authoritarian Communist party.

He had been placed under house arrest earlier this year but released on 30 June ahead of the anniversary of the Communist party’s founding, reports said.

The anniversary also marked the transfer of Hong Kong from British to Chinese control under the “one country, two systems” policy.

But Hong Kong democracy activists say that system is in tatters after China last week imposed a new national security law on the territory.

The legislation, which makes it an offence to “disrespect” the Chinese national anthem, came into effect overnight on Tuesday. Officials kept the full details of the bill secret until after it was passed.

The law bans succession (breaking away from China), subversion (undermining the power of central government), terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces.

Critics say that many of the clauses in the law are deliberately vague.

The introduction of the law saw hundreds of demonstrators take to the streets to protest against what they saw as fundamental threats to their personal freedoms.

On Friday, police charged the first person arrested under the new law.

A man is detained by riot police during a demonstration against the new law (Getty Images)
A man is detained by riot police during a demonstration against the new law (Getty Images) (Getty)

Tong Ying-kit, 23, has been hit with one charge of terrorism and one charge of secession, according to court documents published on Friday.

The United Nations has warned that the “vague and overly broad” provisions in the law may lead to activists being prosecuted in violation of fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression.

Hong Kong’s activists have vowed to set up a “parliament in exile” while others, such as Nathan Law, have decided to leave over fears of being detained under the law.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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