China detains professor who criticized Xi over coronavirus

by Maruf Adedeji

Chinese authorities on Monday 6 July, 2020, detained a law professor who published essays criticizing President Xi Jinping over the coronavirus pandemic and his efforts to consolidate power.

Professor of law Xu Zhangrun is a rare outspoken critic of the government in China’s heavily censored academia.

Xu was taken from his home in suburban Beijing by more than 20 people, one of his friends said on condition of anonymity.

He published an essay in February, blaming the deception and censorship culture fostered by Xi for the spread of the coronavirus in China.

The law professor at the highly ranked Chinese University, Tsinghua University, had earlier spoken against the 2018 abolition of presidential term limits in an essay that went viral.

A friend to Xu said on Monday, 6 July, 2020, that a man who claimed to be a police officer had called Xu’s wife – who lives separately – to say Xu was arrested for allegedly soliciting prostitution in the southwester city of Chengdu.

Authorities placed Xu under home arrest last week, the friend said.

Xu had visited Chengdu last winter with a number of liberal Chinese scholars, although it is unclear if the arrest was connected to the trip.

But the allegation is “ridiculous and shameless,” according to the friend.

Last year, Tsinghua University reportedly barred Professor Xu from teaching and conducting research.

However, Xi’s situation attracted hundreds of Tsinghua alumni and academics from around the world to sign an online petition against the institution’s decision.

Tsinghua and public security authorities in Beijing did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Monday, 6 July, 2020.

Communist Party is known for tightly holding control of Chinese freedom of expression, but the control has become suffocating under Xi.

In 2019, a Chinese court sentenced ‘cyber-dissident’ Huang Qi, whose website reported on sensitive topics including human rights, to a 12-year jail term for ‘leaking state secrets’.

Independence discussion suffers further this year as Xi’s government seeks to evade blame for the coronavirus, which scientists believe emerged from a wild animal market in Wuhan.

Chien Jieren, a former journalist with Communist mouthpiece People’s Daily, was convicted by a Human province court in May of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, and ‘negative’ information.

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