Chinese dissident and legal scholar Xu Zhiyong is facing up to 15 years in jail after releasing a scathing letter last month calling President Xi Jinping “feckless in the face of every major crisis,” including the new corona virus outbreak.
Xu, a former law professor and social justice advocate, was detained on Feb. 15 in the southern city of Guangzhou. His family only learned of his detention on March 7 following repeated inquiries, Voice of America (VOA) reports.
A source close to Xu told Radio Free Asia (RFA) he is being held incommunicado in “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL).
RSDL allows for those suspected in “national security” related so-called crimes to be held up to six months without access to their families or a lawyer.
Xu is being held on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power,” activist Hu Jia and legal academic Teng Biao told VOA.
Hu said that Xu’s girlfriend Li Qiaochu is rumored to have been detained on the same charge.
“She has been a huge help to Xu Zhiyong … and it makes sense for the authorities to detain her because [if they] get her cell phone and computer[s] … then she won’t be able to get in contact with Xu Zhiyong or make arrangements [to destroy evidence],” Hu told RFA.
A source close to Xu told the U.S.-funded broadcaster Li was being held as a bargaining chip to pressure him to confess.
Although Xu is facing up to 15 years in prison, Hu believes he will likely face an eight-year sentence.
“The authorities really hate him, because they wanted to ‘educate’ him and he just wouldn’t change. They want to contain him and undermine his activism so they have been seeking evidence to jail him again,” Hu told VOA.
The cofounder of the New Citizens Movement, which advocates for civil rights and constitutional rule in China, Xu was previously sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order.”
In a Feb. 4 article published on a website that is blocked in China and belongs to the New Citizens Movement, Xu called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to resign, calling him “feckless in the face of every major crisis,” from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests to the epidemic that originated in the central city of Wuhan.
“Medical supplies are tight, and the hospitals are overcrowded with people, and a large number of those infected are unable to have their cases verified,” Xu wrote.
“You say you personally directed the deployment, it is a mess.”
“Mr. Xi Jinping, please give way,” he wrote.
Xu also criticized restrictions on Chinese media reporting of the epidemic centered in Wuhan and the strict lockdown measures implemented to contain it.