China, Foreign Policy, Publications, The New York Times

NYT: “China Investigates Extralegal Petitioner Detentions”

In today’s New York Times, my friend Xu Zhiyong, “a public interest lawyer whose organization has investigated black jails,” is quoted in the story the story, “China Investigates Extralegal Petitioner Detentions” by Andrew Jacobs:

โ€œThe Anyuanding affair [named after a security company which allegedly operated black jails inside of China] is so sinister and damaging, it appears that the public security authorities were left with little choice but to intervene and investigate,โ€ Mr. Xu said.

What the article did not mention was that just over a year ago, Xu found himself disappeared when guards pulled him from his apartment early one morning in August 2009 before resurfacing in a Beijing jail where he was being held on the pretext of tax evasion charges. Earlier this year, I wrote about the experience of uncovering the news that he was missing for Foreign Policy in an article entitled “Raging Against the Machine”:

Xu Zhiyong was watching the 2004 Democratic convention in a shared common area at a Columbia University dormitory when we first met. After just a few words, I knew he could understand little of the speeches on television. It is so different from China, he said. Political conventions in his home country were pageants: Officials waited their turn, sat erect in their seats, and clapped only on cue and never too wildly.

Last July, my friend was the subject of a different form of high stakes political theater when he was arrested, detained, and held incommunicado for one month. As a young and extremely enterprising attorney in Beijing, he has represented a slew of disadvantaged clients in China, from a newspaper owner beleaguered by the authorities to the victims of the contaminated baby formula sold by the Sanlu company. When he disappeared, the first news I received appeared on the New Yorker’s website in the form of a headline that questioned directly, “Where is Xu Zhiyong?”

Since his release in August 2009, less than a month after his extralegal arrest and detention began, he was once again freed so he could be free to be arrested again – as was the case recently at a demonstration in Beijing:

One reason Beijing is so nervous about demonstrations is that based on past experience, “troublemakers” often take advantage of such rare occasions to air grievances regarding nondiplomatic issues, especially corruption within party and government departments. That explains why at least nine activists, according to the watchdog Chinese Human Rights Defenders, were detained or warned not to participate in the rallies in Beijing and Guangzhou. Among them were Xu Zhiyong, a lecturer at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and Teng Biao, a lawyer. Xu and Teng are well-known NGO activists who have stood up for victims of official corruption.
“Is China Afraid of Its Own People?” by Willy Lam, Foreign Policy
September 28, 2010