BEIJING – Jailed Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong, who was arrested last month, released a defiant video message from his prison cell on Thursday vowing to pay any price for “freedom, public interest and love,” a move that is certain to anger authorities here.
“No matter how degenerate and ridiculous society is, the country needs a group of brave citizens to stand out, insisting on their faith and taking their rights, responsibilities and dreams seriously,” he said in the video, made on Aug. 1, encouraging people to add the word “citizen” in front of their names to show they are standing up for their rights.
“Only if we unite, make a joint effort, take the rights of citizens seriously, take the identity of citizens seriously and promote democracy, rule of law and justice together, can we build a free China with justice and love," he said.
Xu was jailed last month, one of at least 16 activists who have been arrested or detained since banners were unfurled in Beijing in March and April demanding officials publicly disclose their private assets. He was charged with "gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place," something the Chinese government has treated with particular sensitivity since the 1989 student-led protests.
He is the founder of the New Citizens Movement, a grass-roots social campaign that promotes the rule of law and human rights and advocates equal education opportunities for the children of rural migrant workers who face systematic discrimination in China’s cities.
He was also one of seven jailed activists whose names the United States government brought up during a meeting on human rights last week. After that meeting, U.S. officials expressed concern that the human rights situation in China was worsening, adding that the talks themselves had fallen "short of expectations." The day after the talks ended, Beijing police detained a senior columnist who had co-authored a petition calling for Xu's release, and forced him to fly back to his home province of Guangdong in southern China. After two nights in detention, the columnist, who is best known by his pen name Xiao Shu, was freed and allowed to go home.
Xiao said he had collected 2,600 signatures for his petition and called Xu's arrest an attack on the citizens’ movement. “Their target is to punish one person and warn 100,” he said, speaking by telephone from his home. “So this is why we are standing up now. I want to tell them we are not frightened.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to crack down on official corruption since taking office, and has begun by banning the lavish displays of wealth and alcohol-fueled banquets that had become hallmarks of Communist Party officialdom. But critics complain the anti-corruption campaign has not been institutionalized, while the party as a whole remains above the law. The party's internal policing efforts have at times appeared as much motivated by political jockeying as anti-corruption.
On Thursday, the Communist Party expelled a former top economic official, Liu Tienan, and removed him from public office for corruption, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported. Liu, the former deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission -- the country’s top economic planning body -- was accused of accepting “a huge amount of bribes” for himself and his family, and of “moral degeneracy,” Xinhua said.
Liu was exposed earlier this year by a local journalist, who said he had received his information from a jilted mistress. Of more than 170 officials who have been punished for corruption after being exposed in the media or on the Internet in recent years, around a quarter have been exposed by disgruntled mistresses, according to Mao Zhaohui, director of the Center for Anti-Corruption and Clean Government at Renmin University of China in Beijing
Last month, former railways minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence for corruption, but the biggest corruption trial of all, of regional leader Bo Xilai, is expected to take place later this month. Bo, the former party boss in Chongqing, was a rising star in Chinese politics who used the language of Maoist revival to revitalize the party and made no secret of his national ambitions. But he was dramatically toppled last year in one of the most embarrassing scandals to hit the party in decades, and he was charged last month with corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power.