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Xu Zhangrun, a prominent law professor who has criticised the country’s leadership, was taken from his Beijing home early on Monday morning, according to friends and colleagues.
A colleague of the outspoken Tsinghua University academic said close contacts of Xu’s family confirmed that the professor was in police custody.
The colleague, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said: “I’ve urged Xu to hire a lawyer since he was suspended [by the university] after his last run-in with the authorities, and we were worried about his safety.
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“But he said he doesn’t need one because he was a lawyer himself.”
A friend of the professor said police also took away Xu’s computer and other property when they seized him from his home in Changping on the outskirts of Beijing on Monday.
“We heard that a lot of police came this morning and they came in about 10 cars. We don’t know why he was taken away this time,” the friend said.
Wang Bin, a writer based in Beijing and close friend of Xu, said he learned that a police officer called Xu's wife and told her Xu had solicited prostitutes when he visited the southwestern city Chengdu in Sichuan province.
Wang recalls last summer that Xu went to Chengdu with several friends and students.
"Soliciting prostitutes is one method of stigmatising. You will know his morale principles if you've met him. And I know Xu has prepared to be taken away since he published the articles," Wang said.
One of Xu's students had sent medicine to Xu via police but did not meet with Xu in person.
"The police officer says that they will contact Xu's family within 24 hours," Wang said.
Repeated calls to Xu’s mobile phone and messages to his WeChat account were not successful. Calls to Beijing Public Security Bureau went unanswered.
The 57-year-old professor has been under close watch by authorities but he has maintained his outspoken criticism of the Communist Party leadership. Tsinghua University suspended him from teaching in 2019 after he published an article criticising the decision by party leaders to lift the two-term limit for presidents.
Xu has faced restrictions in meeting friends and had his social media accounts blocked after he published a strongly worded article on several overseas Chinese-language websites in February accusing the country’s leadership of “putting politics ahead of the people”.
Three months later, on the eve of China’s top legislative session in May, Xu published another long commentary, warning that China should not be complacent about its initial success in its war against the coronavirus, which has now sickened over 11.5 million people and caused more than 537,000 deaths globally.
In the article, he also called on the Chinese leadership to reflect on its handling of the pandemic and apologise for its mistakes. Xu also proposed that authorities set up a public monument in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged, as both a memorial and an expression of remorse.
In May, Zhang Xuezhong, a Shanghai-based jurist, was removed from his Shanghai home after he wrote an open letter to deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC) two weeks before China’s most important parliamentary sessions.
Zhang, who was released one day after the detention, criticised China’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and calling on the National People’s Congress, the nation’s legislature, to overhaul China’s political system.
Additional reporting by Cissy Zhou
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