Authorities in Shanghai have suspended a prominent legal scholar and rights lawyer from his teaching post after he wrote an article promoting constitutional reforms in June, amid what rights groups say is a continuing crackdown on political activists and anti-graft campaigners.
Zhang Xuezhong, law lecturer at Shanghai's East China University of Political Science and Law, received notification on Aug. 17 that the university's ruling Chinese Communist Party committee had revoked his permission to teach there.
The move comes after Zhang was criticized for penning an article calling for constitutional political reform in China.
The university wrote to Zhang saying his writing had "violated the Constitution" and calling on him to respond, whereupon the lecturer wrote back saying he was exercising his right to free expression under the Constitution.
Zhang may have been targeted due to his legal work representing a series of activists detained in a recent crackdown on anti-corruption activists, who have called in recent public protests for China's leaders to reveal details of their assets and those of their family, the overseas rights group China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in an emailed statement.
"People familiar with the circumstances believe that the suspension’s main intent is to punish Zhang for representing several activists detained in the ongoing crackdown on free assembly and association," CHRD said.
These included Jiangxi-based activist Liu Ping, who is being held on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order" and "breaking the law through cult activities" after calling for official transparency, as well as Hunan-based Li Huaping and Beijing-based Zhao Changqing.
More charges added
Liu's lawyer Zheng Jianwei said he was informed of the revised charges against her on Wednesday, which are likely to mean her time in detention to date is no longer counted.
"They have now added two more charges to the list, and investigations are under way," Zheng said. "This is also retroactive, so they can start the process over from scratch."
He said the police may be struggling to find enough evidence to support the charges.
"This is ridiculous, but all the power is in their hands," Zheng said. "All we can do is watch."
According to CHRH, Liu was recently suffering from a gastrointestinal disease in the municipal detention center in her home city of Xinyu.
"By July, Liu reportedly had become very weak ... having lost a great deal of weight while needing to force herself to eat and suffering daily bouts of diarrhea," the group said.
Meanwhile, Guangdong-based rights lawyers Wen Yu and Ge Xianyun said their requests to meet with rights activist Sun Deyang were turned down by Guangzhou municipal police on Tuesday.
"The detention center said we would have to apply to the Tianhe district police department in Guangzhou, because this case involves 'major special circumstances,'" Wen said in an interview on Thursday.
"They don't want [cases like this] to be able to meet freely with their lawyers, because they don't want them to know that there are people helping them on the outside," he said.
"The police want to put a bit of pressure on the defendant ... so as to get the official statement they want from him."
Sun was detained by Guangzhou municipal state security police on Aug. 13 after he called for the release of New Citizens' Movement leader Xu Zhiyong, who was formally arrested last week for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order," paving the way for a trial.
Sun is currently being held at the Tianhe District Detention Center in Guangzhou.
The New Citizens’ Movement is a loose grouping of activists spearheaded by Xu since 2011, many of whom have also been detained since March.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.