Important and negative Chinese human rights development

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I am remiss in not mentioning the news from earlier today that Xu Zhiyong, a prominent citizens-defense lawyer in China, was taken from his home at 5 am in Beijing and has not been seen since.  Xu has been a major figure in a group called the Open Constitution Initiative, or Gong Meng (公盟), and is well known for representing groups and individuals against corporations and the state. For instance, last year he represented families whose children had been poisoned during the Sanlu tainted-milk scandal.

The official rationale for taking Xu is that he was suspected of income-tax irregularities. This claim is not believed anywhere outside the public-prosecutor's office and probably not by many inside it. A number of similar legal-rights organizations have been closed in the last few days and other lawyers detained. As one Chinese associate of Xu's wrote me today,

Ever since the first indictments came, I have feared something like this would happen, but to know they actually detained Dr. Xu, a highly respected lawyer and a people's representative of Haidian District [the northwest university/tech district of Beijing], just as they do to any other petitioner is just shocking. This means that nobody is safe from random detainment, or free from the fear of it.

Stories about the case here, here, and here, and statement from the Chinese Human Rights Defenders organization here (in Chinese here). If this had happened two days ago, during the generally upbeat "Strategic and Economic Dialogue," US officials could not decently have avoided commenting on it directly to their Chinese counterparts. They should say something publicly now.

This whole crackdown is being presented inside China as part of the tightening necessary before the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic this fall. What a commemoration.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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