Thursday, July 18, 2013

Xu Zhiyong Detained (Again), China's Web Sites Censor It (Again)

According to a document posted on Tencent Weibo (pictured below) on July 16, 2013, the Beijing Public Security Bureau issued a "detention notice" for Xu Zhiyong (许志永) on charges of "disturbing public order." (扰乱公共秩序)

This screenshot was taken on July 17 and shows that Baidu had banned users from establishing PostBar (贴吧 Tieba) forums for "Xu Zhiyong."
 These screenshots show that on July 18 both Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo began censoring searches for "Xu Zhiyong."

This is neither the first time that Xu has been detained nor the first time that Chinese web sites have censored information about him. On August 19, 2009, the China Daily published a report entitled "Lawyer Arrested on Tax Evasion Charges." Some excerpts:
Xu Zhiyong, co-founder of Gongmeng, a legal assistance group, was taken from his home by security officers at dawn on July 29, according to a statement from Gongmeng. 
Zhou Ze, Xu's lawyer, told China Daily yesterday that Beijing prosecutors had approved a police application to arrest Xu for tax evasion. 
Beijing municipal authorities ordered the closure of Gongmeng last month for not being "registered properly". Beijing tax authorities also sent a formal notice to the center last month, imposing a fine of 1.4 million yuan ($207,000) for evading taxes on funds received from overseas.
. . . .
In 2005, Xu registered the Gongmeng group. With other scholars and lawyers, Xu has been providing legal help to the country's disadvantaged groups, including some of the parents of children who fell ill after drinking contaminated milk powder last year. 
Information about Xu has been blocked on the internet yesterday as the search for "Xu Zhiyong (Chinese characters)"on and Baidu, two major search engines, generated: "Your search results don't conform to related laws and policy".
The left-hand screenshots show searches for "Xu Zhiyong" on Baidu in late July 2009 and mid-August 2009. In July, Baidu said it could find over 100,000 results for Xu's name. By mid-August, shortly after Xu's detention, Baidu was returning no results, only a notice saying "Search results may not comply with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, and have not been displayed." (搜索结果可能不符合相关法律法规和政策,未予显示。).

At the time of his detention Xu was a lecturer at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. He was one of the founders of the Open Constitution Initiative ("Gong Meng" 公盟). In 2003, he had been elected to the Haidian District People's Congress as an independent. In a July 2009 interview with China's Esquire Magazine (published the same month he was detained) Xu said:
Xu as he appeared in the Chinese edition of
Esquire Magazine the same month he was
detained in 2009.
I hope that our country can be a free and happy one. No person need betray their conscience. Everyone needs only rely on their talent and character to find their position in life. A simple and happy society, where the goodness of humanity may find its apex, and its malice finds its nadir, where honesty, trust, kindness, and helping one another becomes commonplace, where there is not so much anger and anxiety, and there is a pure smile on every face.
Below is a timeline of events surrounding Xu's detention for tax evasion in 2009:

May 2009, Gong Meng published a report that challenged China's official explanation that the deadly riots that broke out across Tibet in March 2008, were inspired by "overseas forces" — namely the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. Instead, the report blamed the riots on the central government's policies toward Tibet, claiming it has backed incompetent local officials, created an economy that provides few options for young people, and deprived Tibetans access to equal justice under law.

July 14, the Gong Meng Consulting Company Limited received a "Notice of Tax Administrative Sanctions" simultaneously from the national and local tax bureaus, saying that administrative sanctions would be imposed before July 24, with the local tax bureau imposing a 304,975.65 yuan fine, and the national tax authority demanding 187,424.67 yuan in back taxes and imposing a 937,124.35 yuan fine, for a combined total of 1,420,000 yuan. The accusation of tax evasion included a $100,000 grant that Yale University gave the center for legal programs.

July 16, Gong Meng submitted an "Application for Hearing" to the local tax authority and the Beijing branch of the national tax authority.

July 17, the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau announced that Gong Meng had been designated an illegal organization, was banned, and the office's equipment would be confiscated. The No. 2 Tax Investigation Office of the Beijing local tax bureau issued a notice that Gong Meng had evaded business, municipal, and stamp duty taxes, and ordered it to pay 60,995.13 yuan. The Tax Investigation Office of the Beijing branch of the National Tax Bureau issued a decision that Gong Meng evaded business taxes, and ordered it to pay 187,424.87 yuan.

July 24, Gong Meng's legal representative Xu Zhiyong, and agents Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵) and Peng Jian (彭剑) attended a hearing at the offices of Beijing's local tax bureau. Attorney Teng Biao's (滕彪) was prohibited from attending the hearing.

July 28, Gong Meng invited several legal experts to attend a meeting at Beijing University Law School to discuss and analyze the incident from an academic perspective. Administrative law experts Professor Jiang Mingan, Professor Liu Shen, and Professor Zhang Shuyi issued the "Legal Opinion on the 'Banning of Gong Meng Incident."

July 29, Xu and a Gong Meng co-worker, Zhuang Lu (庄璐), were taken away from their homes by police. The next day the police prevented Xu from attending a hearing with the National Tax Bureau.

July 31, Gong Meng issued a "Statement Regarding Dr. Xu Zhiyong's Detention by the Police," calling for "relevant agencies to abide by the law, and on the basis of building a fair, just, and harmonious society, embrace open civil society organizations, show discretion in handling this case, and immediately restore the personal liberty of Dr. Xu Zhiyong and Zhuang Lu," and reaffirmed "Gong Meng's unwavering commitment to principles of reason, rule of law, constructivism, and non-violence, and to continue focus on and promote China's public welfare, social progress, and rule of law." That afternoon, Gong Meng's website was shut down.

August 3, Gong Meng issued the "Notice Regarding Gong Meng's Intent to Accept Public Donations For Use in Complying With the Tax Authorities' Administrative Sanctions Decisions." The Notice said that Gong Meng would be accepting donations to pay the back taxes and penalties imposed by the tax authorities. Two days later, the police froze Gong Meng's bank account.

August 17, Xu's family applied for bail for Xu. Xu and Zhuang were granted bail and released on August 23, one day after the new American ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, arrived in Beijing.

August 30, Gong Meng published the "Report on the Status of Donations," stating that as of August 25, they had received 1,701,281.01 yuan, and that Gong Meng had already complied with the administrative decisions and administrative sanctions imposed by the national and local tax authorities.

Courts in the Chaoyang, Xicheng, and Haidian districts of Beijing all refused to hear Gong Meng's complaints regarding its being banned by the civil affairs authorities, having its business license revoked by the commercial authorities, and being sanctioned by tax authorities.

Screenshots of Gong Meng's web site as it appeared
before it was shut down.
August 21, 2010, the Beijing Public Security Bureau closed its investigation against Gong Meng on the grounds that it had paid its fines. It returned Gong Meng's account books and lifted the bail on Xu Zhiyong and Zhuang Lu.