Friends of anti-corruption dissident Xu Zhiyong revealed that Chinese prosecutors are filing “inciting state subversion” charges against him after he published a letter calling for Chinese dictator Xi Jinping to resign over the nation’s failed response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Monday.
Xu may face a maximum of 15 years in prison on those charges, which essentially label him a threat to national security. Xu served time in prison from 2014 to 2017 over organizing the New Citizens’ Movement, a group demanding government accountability on state corruption and challenging the totalitarian communist regime.
Xu had reportedly been hiding from arrest since Chinese police raided the city of Xiamen in December on a tip that dissidents had congregated there for a meeting to freely discuss politics in China. Authorities reportedly found Xu using facial recognition technology, which Beijing has deployed extensively to keep track of political dissidence, but entered the home he was hiding in using a “coronavirus check” as an excuse.
From an undisclosed location, Xu published a letter condemning the Communist Party for turning the coronavirus outbreak into a “national disaster” and urged Xi to resign. The letter surfaced in February and friends and family believe Xu has been in police custody since February 15.
At the time, Amnesty International condemned reports of Xu’s arrest, which did not specify what he was being arrested for.
“The detention of Xu Zhiyong shows that the Chinese government’s battle against the coronavirus has in no way diverted it from its ongoing general campaign to crush all dissenting voices and its ruthless assault on freedom of expression,” Patrick Poon, Amnesty International’s China researcher, said in February. “Xu has been in the authorities’ sights ever since he attended a meeting of human rights activists in Xiamen in December, and he has since criticized President Xi’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.”
This weekend, Xu’s friends and family revealed that he may be going to prison for as many as 15 years over the “subversion” charges, believed to be related to his criticism of the Chinese coronavirus response. Police revealed his arrest and offered the vague reason why after his family reported him missing.
“The police station admitted it, saying they had him,” an unnamed source told RFA. “[They said] he was someone in the custody of the Beijing state security police, who had sent the notification to his hometown in [the central province of] Henan. His sister then found out more from the Henan state security police, who said he is being held under RSDL.”
RSDL is an abbreviation for “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of arrest that allows the government to abduct a person for up to six months without contacting family or an attorney, as it is neither prison nor house arrest. RFA notes that this type of abduction is allowed in Chinese law if a suspect is accused of national security crimes.
Hu Jia, a fellow human rights activist, warned that police had also abducted Li Qiaochu, Xu’s girlfriend.
“The authorities really hate him [Xu], because they wanted to ‘educate’ him and he just wouldn’t change. They want to contain him and undermine his activism so they have been seeking evidence to jail him again,” Hu said.
The Chinese Communist Party has not confirmed the charges. Sources speaking to RFA, Voice of America, and other outlets suggest, however, that Li also may face “incitement to subvert state power” charges.
“Many government critics and human rights lawyers who have been held in such detention have been subjected to torture, sleep deprivation and forced medication in solitary confinement for months before being formally charged and jailed on state security crime,” Voice of America noted.
Shortly before his abduction, Xu published an open letter to Xi titled, “Dear Chairman Xi, It’s Time for You to Go,” accusing him of incompetence in response to the Wuhan viral outbreak.
“In actual fact, I don’t really think that you are a bad person, as such; it’s simply that you’re not all that bright,” Xu wrote to Xi, acknowledging that Xi’s “associates are searching for me high and low so they can throw me back into jail.”
Xu’s extensive letter disparages the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi’s attempts to colonize the South China Sea, the response to the coronavirus outbreak, and essentially every aspect of Xi’s rule. It is laden with personal insults, referring to Xi as stupid, unconfident, and generally embarrassing to the Chinese people:
You have amassed dictatorial powers, and through your policies you have increasingly distorted the market. Now, the nation’s economy is trending downwards. You call this a revival? You have also espoused building a “beautiful China.” But that’s all just put out there for show; what about the deeply held aspirations people have to enjoy true equality, justice, freedom, and happiness? You tout things like the “Four Self-Confidences,” the “Eight Clarifications” and the “Fourteen Perseveres.” Sure, you’ve got a grab-bag of such slogans, but no one has a clue what any of them really means.
You’re not Putin, or Modi, and you’re certainly not Trump. You flirt with Cultural Revolution fanaticism, but you are no true-believing Leftist; you lurch towards bellicose nationalism, but you’re no hawk, either. You’re a big nothing.
Official documents pile up like mountains on your desk and you are drowning in an endless sea of meetings. You don’t even have time to read everything that’s put in front of you, so how can you possibly stand above the fray and have the kind of perspective that’s necessary to run a country like China? Fiscal management and the economy—you’re in charge of all of that as well! What’s the premier of the State Council [Li Keqiang] supposed to do? Do you have any particular expertise in economic matters? If not, then hand the responsibility to someone who does. Any political leader worth their salt would know to do that.
On the coronavirus outbreak, Xu accuses Xi of having a “basic ignorance of how a modern society actually works” that resulted in a “chaotic” and failed response in Wuhan.
“The practical measures taken should have been precise and involved targeted quarantines. Instead, you decided to go the whole hog and, with the stroke of a pen, you put over nine million people in lockdown,” Xu wrote. “When this masterstroke was announced, there was already a serious shortage of medical supplies and hospitals in Wuhan were full to capacity. As a result, large numbers of infected individuals could not be properly tested, let alone quarantined and treated.”
“You’re no politician. You’re far inferior to Deng Xiaoping. You have proved that you lack the most rudimentary competences. Yet you remain perversely unaware of your limitations; you actually think you are more formidable than Deng ever was and you have the hubris to presume that you are on par with Mao Zedong,” he continued. “Furthermore … you have an embarrassing penchant for making erudite references and quoting classical texts. … One presumes that in your youth you never thought you’d get this far, and your evident inferiority complex certainly does betray you, though nowadays you’ve changed a lot.”
Xu has been far from the last person to condemn Xi for allowing the coronavirus outbreak to infect tens of thousands of people and putting the global population in danger. In the early days of the outbreak in January, Wuhan police detained eight people for allegedly spreading “rumors” on social media. Most were health professionals sharing tips for how to prevent the virus from spreading or alerting to the spread of an unidentified contagious disease. One of those health professionals, Dr. Li Wenliang, died in February after contracting the Wuhan virus himself, prompting a wave of outrage at Chinese authorities for detaining and humiliating him during his last days.