Lawyer Released, Assistant 'Missing'

Chinese authorities release a well-known rights lawyer, but his assistant's whereabouts remain unknown.
2009-08-24
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Xuzhiyong305.jpg
Xu Zhiyong after his release, Aug. 24, 2009.
Photo provided by Peng Jian

HONG KONG--Authorities in Beijing have released a prominent legal scholar and civil rights activist, but his assistant from the Gongmeng legal aid law firm has not been seen since her release on Saturday, Internet activists said.

Law scholar Xu Zhiyong was released from his Beijing detention center Sunday, although tax evasion charges against him have not been dropped.

"There are some limits [on my movements]," Xu, co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative, or Gongmeng, said in an interview Sunday.

"I have to get prior approval if I want to travel outside Beijing ... I would like to thank everybody very much. I am very grateful to all my friends," said Xu, whose detention by security officials at dawn on July 29 sparked a huge online protest and support campaign.

"[My assistant Zhuang Lu's situation] is the same. Bail has been approved," said Xu.

But Gongmeng co-worker Zhuang had failed to contact relatives, sparking concerns among Chinese netizens that she may have been detained by officials from her home province of Fujian.

Still being held?

"When Xu Zhiyong was let out, the police told him that Zhuang Lu was let out the day before, but we haven't seen hide nor hair of her yesterday or today," one user on the microblogging service Twitter wrote.

"Zhuang's mother was very happy to hear that Xu was released, but she has had no word [from Zhuang]. She is very upset and crying."

"Please could everyone please send out the message to Zhuang Lu: Your mother is calling you home for dinner!" wrote "24 Hours," in a reference to a recent postcard campaign for the release of detained dissidents around China.

Twitter user "Daxa" wrote: "I just spoke with [Beijing-based civil rights lawyer] Teng Biao on the phone, and he said that Zhuang Lu was released on Saturday, but that no one has seen her since. What is going on?"

Xuzhiyong300.jpg
Xu Zhiyong celebrates with friends, Aug. 24, 2009. Photo provided by Peng Jian
Netizens said Zhuang, who is from the southeastern city of Quanzhou, had not contacted either her father or her mother since her release.

Xu was formally arrested Aug. 12 on charges of evading taxes. His bail was posted by the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications, where he teaches.

His lawyer, Zhou Ze, said the case against Xu had yet to be sent to prosecutors, and might yet collapse.

Gongmeng's scholars, lawyers, and rights advocates have annoyed Beijing with a series of high-profile cases, including providing legal aid to victims of tainted baby milk formula and issuing a report criticizing the handling of unrest across the Tibetan plateau last year.

Xu gained national attention in 2003, when  he took up the cause of Sun Zhigang, a graphic designer who died after being beaten in a detention center in southern China.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.