A professor who criticised China’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has been detained by authorities.
Xu Zhangrun, who has been under house arrest, was taken away from his Beijing home on Monday, friends said.
The law professor has previously spoken out against the Mao-like cult of personality which has returned under China’s current leader, Xi Jinping.
Police have not commented publicly on the arrest, and it is unclear what charges Mr Xu faces.
One friend told news agency AFP that Mr Xu’s wife had received a call telling her he was accused of soliciting prostitution while in the city of Chengdu with other liberal academics.
The friend dismissed the allegation as “ridiculous”.
Freedom of expression is tightly controlled in China, with those who speak out against authorities risking arrest and jail sentences.
Friends say as many as 20 people appeared at Mr Xu’s house early in the morning, seizing his computer and papers.
Geng Xiaonan, a friend of the professor, told the New York Times he was “mentally prepared to be taken away”.
“He kept a bag with clothes and a toothbrush hanging on his front door so he would be ready for this,” she said.
A BBC Beijing correspondent says Mr Xu has been treading an ever more dangerous path.
He had been barred from teaching at Tsinghua University – one of the country’s top institutions – after he spoke out against the removal of presidential term limits, allowing Mr Xi to remain in post for life.
He was placed under house arrest earlier this year after publishing an article criticising the way President Xi and the government had handled the coronavirus outbreak. He suggested it might be the last one he ever wrote.
Criticize Xi Jinping
Over the last three years, Xu, a prolific writer, has penned a series of scathing commentaries characterized as much by their candor as for their literary elegance.
“The last seven decades [of the People’s Republic] have taught the people repeated lessons about the hazards of totalitarian government,” Xu wrote of Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic in China in an essay published this February. “They stood by blithely as the crucial window of opportunity that was available to deal with the outbreak snapped shut in their faces.”
Xu’s broadsides were quickly met with political retribution. Tsinghua University stripped him of his teaching responsibilities, denied him access to his office and forbade him from taking on graduate students last year. Publishers were told not to accept his work and his social media accounts were deleted.
In September 2018, Xu was suddenly taken by public security officials to a rural Beijing facility for several days of questioning after returning from Japan. Friends said he had been under another period of house arrest for the last few weeks as China celebrated July 1, the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party and the date Beijing chose to impose a sweeping national security law over Hong Kong this year.
“It is necessary to call for an end to the ever-increasing censorship and to give freedom of expression back to the intelligentsia,” Xu wrote in a widely circulated essay published in July 2018. “Whenever there’s been an outbreak of anything approaching normalcy, it has been crushed.”
Remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
As with all unelected, communist regimes, Beijing fears its own people’s free thinking more than any foreign foe.
We were deeply troubled to learn this week that the CCP detained Xu Zhangrun for criticizing General Secretary Xi Jinping’s repressive regime and the CCP’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He should be released. He was simply telling the truth. He should be released as soon as possible.
I’ll repeat a theme I’ve been talking about for months: The CCP has an enormous credibility problem. They failed to tell the world the truth about this virus, and now hundreds of thousands of peoples all across the world are dead. We need the truth; we still need the truth. We need to open up. We need to engage in a serious way with scientists around the world. And they now say they’re going to allow the WHO to come in. That’s great, but the WHO needs to be free to do its real work. We need to make sure the right people are there to engage in this investigation, and we need real answers, not a perfunctory political solution. This is about science, not politics, and the Chinese Communist Party needs to come clean with the world about this virus.
Source: Secretary of State Press conference in Washington July 7 2020