Tue, Aug 25, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Chinese lawyer may escape prosecution

AFP , BEIJING

A leading Chinese rights lawyer suddenly freed from detention may escape prosecution if he pays a fine for tax evasion allegedly committed by the group he co-founded, his attorney said yesterday.

Although Xu Zhiyong (許志勇) was allowed to walk out of a Beijing detention center on Sunday after being locked up since late last month, authorities have not abandoned the accusations of tax evasion that led to his detention.

“If Xu pays the fine for tax evasion, it’s likely that he will not face prosecution,” said Zhou Ze (周澤), Xu’s lawyer. “I believe he won’t be in other kinds of trouble.”

Chinese tax authorities levied a 1.42 million yuan (US$208,000) fine last month on the legal organization Gongmeng (公盟), which Xu helped found.

Xu himself said that while authorities probed the case, he would be allowed to leave Beijing, but would have to get permission first.

“I must be willing to help the judicial authorities as they investigate the case,” Xu said, adding that his colleague Zhuang Lu (庄璐) was also released on Sunday.

China has also freed Ilham Tohti, an Internet activist and a member of the ethnic Uighur minority concentrated in the northwestern Xinjiang region, which was rattled by deadly unrest last month, an official said.

“Ilham has returned home. It happened two days ago,” said an official at the Minzu University of China, where Tohti works as a professor of economics.

Earlier reports has said Tohti was detained after the Xinjiang government said he had helped instigate last month’s unrest by spreading rumors on his Web site, but the university official said “others” had posted the offending content on the site, prompting Tohti’s relatives and the school to request bail.

“He’s now assisting police with their investigations,” the official said.

Some rights advocates have seen the recent detentions as a reflection of a tougher attitude from Beijing toward non-mainstream voices in a year full of highly sensitive anniversaries.

June saw the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen democracy protests, while China will on Oct. 1 mark 60 years since the founding of the communist state.

Gongmeng, whose English name is the Open Constitution Initiative, is an association of lawyers and academics who advocate the rule of law.

Its lawyers have also established a reputation for taking on high-profile compensation cases, including cases linked to the tainted-milk scandal that shook the nation last year.

After the fine, Beijing police raided a Gongmeng research unit, while the organization itself has been closed down by officials who said it was an unregistered “illegal” entity.

Xu’s release came a day after Jon Huntsman, the newly appointed US ambassador to China, announced that US President Barack Obama would visit Beijing in November.

“Xu’s release is a victory for all those who seek to promote the public interest and it’s a huge step of progress for promoting the rule of law in the country,” said Zhou Xiaozheng (周小征), a law professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, the Global Times newspaper reported.

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