Former Tsinghua University Law School professor Xu Zhangrun – who was expelled from his teaching position for allegedly soliciting a prostitute – has for the first time appeared in public to deny the criminal charge and initiated legal action to clear his name, his friends and supporters told RFA.
After Xu completed his home quarantine, on Tuesday, he formally retained attorneys Mo Shaoping and Shang Baojun as his lawyers, they said
According to sources close the professor, Xu completely denies the police allegation against him of soliciting a prostitute – a charge that emerged after Xu had published a series of articles and open letters critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and its supreme leader Xi Jinping.
"Professor Xu has publicly denied the allegation of soliciting a prostitute. This is sheer fiction, nothing but a frame job. And he never admitted to soliciting a prostitute when he was interrogated by the authorities,” said the friend, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the case.
In December 2019, Xu and other prominent legal scholars went to the Sichuan Province capital of Chengdu for a brainstorming meeting,
Xu was questioned by the Beijing Domestic Security Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, the Beijing Municipal police, and the Chengdu Municipal police.
Simultaneously the Qingyang District branch of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau – which is said to be handling the case – announced on its official Weibo social media page in June that it had cracked a case of organized prostitution, and the police imposed administrative penalties on several people involved.
They then issued an “Administrative Penalty Decision” against Xu.
Authorities in Beijing detained Xu on the morning of July 6 after he called online for political reforms, on allegations of "seeking out prostitutes."
He was released a week later, but later told the media that he had been fired from his teaching post and subjected to public sanctions for "moral corruption" by Tsinghua University's law school.
Administrative redress sought
His attorneys will file a request for administrative redress or a lawsuit against the police in accord with his wishes, his friend said.
"Take as an example the Qingyang District branch of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau. If I am dissatisfied with their administrative punishment decision, I can request administrative redress from a higher-level public security agency such as the Chengdu Public Security Bureau,” said another source familiar with the case.
"If the Chengdu Public Security Bureau conducts administrative redress with no facts or legal basis, an administrative lawsuit can be filed with the court demanding revocation of the administrative penalty decision
“If through deliberation the administrative penalty decision is revoked, according to Chinese law, the police will definitely have to apologize and compensate him," the source said.
The authorities have so far failed to produce any evidence of Xu Zhangrun's suspected involvement in soliciting a prostitute, including mobile phone records, hotel surveillance tapes and transfer records, the source said.
"For the police to successfully prosecute soliciting of a prostitute, they must produce solid evidence. But the public security organs produced no evidence, for example any video," the source said.
Former human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang participated in the meeting between Xu and the lawyers.
"This is a matter of justice. I am very inspired by Xu’s personality. I admire him very much. I also believe that what he said is true. It is just a question of how the legal process unfolds. This could be a problem,” said Pu.
It is understood that Tsinghua University decided to expel him as early as when he was detained, and dispatched an official to the detention center to read out his expulsion notice.
'Burden of proof is on the police'
The wording was more severe than in the public announcement, including accusing him of writing articles attacking the Communist Party and the nation, both serious crimes.
After the detention period expired, the police refused to allow Xu to take with him the notice of administrative punishment – a possible violation of legal procedures.
"Professor Xu does not have to prove he did not commit this crime; The police have to prove that he did. The burden of proof is on the police,” said Pu.
“When the punishment decision was made, the legal process should have detailed the facts of the illegal acts,” he added.
A fellow Tsinghua University scholar, who declined to be named in order to discuss Xu’s case, described his retention of lawyers as a last-ditch counterattack against the authorities.
Although the Chinese legal system is of limited utility in protecting defendants’ rights, Chinese intellectuals’ use of the legal space to defend their dignity is seen by Xu’s supporters as more important than the result of the case, the colleague said.
Since party general secretary Xi began an indefinite second term in office in March 2018, his administration has stepped up a purge of liberal intellectuals from higher education institutions.
Friends said at the time of Xu's detention that it could be linked to the publication of one of his books in New York last month, a collection of some of his most controversial essays and articles.
In a 10,000-word essay dated May 21, 2020, Xu described China as isolated from "global civilization," which would de-Sinicize in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Scott Savitt.