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China legal activist freed, but may face tax case
Published on: 2009-08-24
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BEIJING — A prominent Chinese legal scholar whose rights group has tackled some of China's most politically sensitive cases and his office assistant have been released on bail as authorities investigate possible tax charges against the group.

His detention appeared part of a widening crackdown against activist lawyers and non-governmental organizations in China. Several non-governmental groups have been hassled by police in the lead-up to the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party's rule — a politically important celebration Oct. 1 to be marked by a military parade.

Last month, more than 50 Beijing lawyers, many of whom focus on politically sensitive human rights issues, had their licenses revoked. Xu has been at the forefront of legal reform and public interest law in China through the group he co-founded, Gongmeng, or the Open Constitution Initiative.

Xu Zhiyong was detained July 29 along with his assistant Zhuang Lu who also worked at the legal aid group. Xu was formally arrested Aug. 12 on charges of evading taxes. He told The Associated Press he was released on bail Sunday and Zhuang was released the day before.

He said the university where he teaches, the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications, guaranteed his bail. His lawyer, Zhou Ze, said the case has yet to be sent to prosecutors.

"I think the tax evasion charge does not hold water," Zhou said. "We need to wait and see what will happen next."

In a separate case, an outspoken Uighur economist who taught in Beijing, Ilham Tohti, who was detained days after deadly rioting broke out in the western region of Xinjiang last month, was released Sunday afternoon, his friend Huang Zhangjin said. Huang said he spoke to Tohti after he was released and said he is at home with his family.

Immediately after the riots, a Chinese-language Web site Tohti founded, which had became a lively forum about Uighur life and views, was criticized by the region's governor for helping to orchestrate the violence and spread propaganda.

Tothi's academic work has focused on the sensitive topic of how Chinese policies that encourage Han Chinese to move into Xinjiang have disadvantaged and marginalized native Uighurs.

In the case of Xu's group Gongmeng, which was formally shut in mid-July, the Beijing tax bureau fined it 1.4 million yuan ($206,000) for failing to pay taxes.

Zhou said the case might involve accusations of failing to pay up to 200,000 yuan ($29,000) in taxes, but he said authorities have given no details.

Gongmeng lawyers represented parents in last year's tainted milk scandal. Six babies died and nearly 300,000 other children were sickened. The scandal led to an overhaul of China's dairy industry, but the government tried to block parents and activists from publicizing information about illnesses and complaints about authorities.

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