A UK-based scholar has said that Xu Zhangrun, a former Tsinghua University law scholar, has paid a hefty price for criticising China’s political and judicial system under the ruling of Xi Jinping-led Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Xu, a staunch critic of CCP, was detained by Chinese authorities in July for allegedly soliciting prostitutes during his visit to the southwest city of Chengdu. Although he was released later that month, the scholar is reportedly believed to be under house arrest in Beijing. He is being constantly monitored with surveillance cameras, reported ANI.
Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Insitute at King’s College, London, had said, “These are dark days for anyone who takes a dissenting position in China.”
Addressing the entire situation involving Xu and the CCP, Brown said, “[Xu] is able to observe the public world even though he is denied a voice in it. He watches debates online but isn't allowed to participate ... This seems to be the kind of purgatory the party wants to consign problematic figures to."
Xu Zhangrun is a former constitutional law professor at China’s Tsinghua University. He rose to prominence in July 2018 for criticising the removal of the two-term limit for China’s leader, Jinping, that allowed the latter to remain in the office beyond his present term. Since then, he has written a range of essays, critical of CCP. In February 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak in China, Xu wrote an article calling for freedom of speech.
Then, in May 2020, he also wrote an article accusing the Chinese President of attempting to bring the Cultural Revolution back to the country. It was also before China’s CCP met for a delayed annual parliamentary meeting. Under Xi’s leadership, several critics of CCP have faced the blow for voicing disagreements. Open criticism of the Chinese authorities introduces the people to the risk of arrests and jail sentences.
Xu was a professor at a high-ranking university for at least two decades. He was not only barred but also placed under investigation for speaking against the removal of Xi’s presidential term limits.
The former Tsinghua University law scholar had written a 10,000-word essay dated May 21, 2020. In his piece, he hit out at CCP’s general secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping for “isolating” the country from the international community with his foreign policy. He wrote, “China's present totalitarian order has imposed a regime of censorship the likes of which has never been seen before. Under it, editing has become a particularly fraught occupation and shepherding anything through to publication a hazardous process."
“Everyone involved in the industry is hesitant. Authors feel that they are treading on thin ice," wrote Xu while also describing living under round the clock surveillance cameras at his Beijing home in December 2020 essay. Shortly after the essay was published, Xu was reportedly arrested by Chinese authorities and detained by the police for “patronising prostitutes” during a trip that Geng organised for a group of academics including himself to the southwestern city of Chengdu last year.
Since then, even though Xu has been released, he is not allowed to leave Beijing. He not only hired a lawyer to clear his name but has repeatedly denied the charges against him. Geng Xiaonan, a friend of Xu told New York Times when the professor was arrested that he was “mentally prepared to be taken away.” In the May article, in which he even criticised the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Xu had even suggested that it might be the last article he ever wrote.
Geng told the outlet, “He kept a bag with clothes and a toothbrush hanging on his front door so he would be ready for this.” He was released after six days of detention in July 2020 and remains under surveillance. As per The Guardian, he was not free to speak publicly about what took place. After his release, the calls to the media departments of the Beijing police and Tsinghua University seeking comment went unanswered.