UPDATED at 12:45 p.m. EST on 2013-07-17
Police in Beijing have detained leading anti-graft campaigner Xu Zhiyong on charges of disrupting public order in a widening crackdown on activists who have called on government leaders to declare their assets, his lawyer and a rights group said on Wednesday.
Beijing-based rights activist Xu Zhiyong, a key figure in the nascent "New Citizens" anti-corruption movement, was taken away by Beijing police on Tuesday, and is currently being held in the Beijing No. 3 Detention Center, the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said in an emailed statement.
Police also searched Xu’s residence and took away three computers, a cell phone, and other personal belongings, it said.
Shandong-based rights lawyer Liu Weiguo confirmed that he had been instructed to represent Xu by his wife.
He said police had contacted Xu, 40, three times in the last three weeks, to warn him to quit the transparency campaign.
"Xu Zhiyong refused, and now I have had interference aimed at persuading me to drop his case," Liu said. "I can say clearly right now that I won't drop this case, regardless of how much pressure [they put on me.]"
Xu's detention is the latest in a widening crackdown on activists who have called publicly on the leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to disclose their assets, and those of their relatives, rights activists said.
Xu, a teacher at the Beijing Postal University who has served as a delegate to the Haidian district-level People's Congress, has also been active in fighting for the rights of the children of migrant workers to be educated and to sit exams in the capital.
His pro-democracy group, the Open Constitution Initiative, was banned after Xu was targeted by the authorities for "tax evasion" in 2009. He has been repeatedly called in for questioning and held under house arrest since then.
Others have insisted that Beijing ratify the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and called for a voice in China's international rights dialogues.
"We have now seen more activists and lawyers criminally detained in this particular crackdown than in any other in recent years," CHRD international director Renee Xia said in a statement.
"What the leaders truly fear, as it’s been made evident here, is that Chinese citizens are getting organized, taking to the streets, and expressing their views," she said.
According to CHRD's estimates, 14 activists associated with the movement have been formally arrested or criminally detained in Beijing, the central province of Hubei and the eastern province of Jiangxi, on charges ranging from subversion to public order offenses.
Three will be tried on Thursday in Jiangxi's Xinyu city, while others remain under surveillance.
Meanwhile, fellow activist Song Ze, a close associate of Xu Zhiyong and others in custody, has been missing since July 12, CHRD said, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained so far.
Last Friday, relatives of Beijing anti-graft activist Li Gang confirmed that he was taken away in the middle of the night by police, and is being held on the same charges as Xu.
Li's home was also searched, and police confiscated handbills and items printed with the word "Citizen," as well as books and computers, they said.
Li had taken part in a high-profile street action in March, calling on China's leaders to reveal their assets.
President Xi Jinping has warned that the Communist Party must beat graft or lose power, sparking a nationwide clampdown on corruption.
However, political analysts say that officials with friends in the right places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown, and reports suggest many are liquidating their assets and making moves overseas.
U.S.-based veteran pro-democracy activist Wei Jingsheng said Beijing's overriding "stability maintenance" policies were designed to give maximum freedom to China's political and financial elite.
"They believe that they have already given the people too much freedom," he wrote in a recent commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin Service. "The China they have in mind is one that belongs to this elite."
"But this reasoning that protects the bureaucratic class and maintains its stability can never be spoken," he said. "It will never be heard in public."
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.