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China Releases Prominent Human Rights Lawyer on Bail

August 25, 2009

By VOA News
August 23, 2009

A leading Chinese human rights lawyer says he was
released from detention Sunday, but still might
face prosecution on charges of tax evasion.

Xu Zhiyong, co-founder of a legal-aid group known
as the Open Constitution Initiative or Gongmeng,
had been out of contact since security officials
seized him from his home on July 29. He was
formally arrested last Tuesday on charges of tax evasion.

Xu said Sunday he was released on bail pending trial.

Chinese authorities shut down the legal rights
center more than a month ago for alleged
nonpayment of taxes. Members of the group
reported nearly two weeks later that Xu had been
detained by police, and that they could not contact him.

The group has helped victims of China's
tainted-milk scandal and offered assistance in
human-rights cases. It also has issued a report
criticizing the Chinese government's policies toward Tibet.

Rights groups say the latest developments are
part of a widening crackdown on lawyers, rights
activists and non-governmental organizations
ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Chinese communist state.

Preparations are under way for a huge official
celebration of the anniversary on October 1.
Rights activists expect the government will try
to prevent any public demonstration of dissent during the festivities.

China recently revoked the licenses of 53 Beijing
lawyers, most of them prominent human-rights
advocates. Amnesty International has condemned
the crackdown on lawyers as a major blow to the
human-rights defense movement in China.

In a widely quoted statement earlier this year,
Xu said his Gongmeng group aims to help build the
rule of law and advance Chinese society by
objectively and independently studying
human-rights protections, the situation in Tibet and other issues.

One of the government's main charges against Xu's
group alleges that no taxes were paid on a
$100,000 grant the Open Constitution Initiative
received from Yale University. Xu has been a
visiting scholar at Yale Law School on several occasions.
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