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EU envoy criticises ‘tightening’ curbs on China human rights

Security officials mounting EU flag/FILE

Security officials mounting EU flag/FILE

BEIJING, Jan 17 – The European Union’s outgoing ambassador to China on Friday criticised growing curbs on human rights in the country, raising several individual cases including an arrested activist and a detained Uighur academic.

As well as Xu Zhiyong, a long-time legal campaigner whose case came up for a hearing Friday, and Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur economist detained earlier this week, Markus Ederer specifically cited Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who has never been charged with any crime but has been under house arrest for years.

“We remain concerned on the overall tightening of the human rights situation and especially about the trials of members of the New Citizens Movement, in particular Xu Zhiyong,” Ederer told reporters.

He was concluding his term as ambassador Friday to take up a new position as German vice foreign minister.

Xu, 40, is one of more than two dozen members of the loosely-connected New Citizens Movement detained after they called for Chinese officials to disclose their assets — a step seen as a measure against endemic corruption.

Tohti has criticised government policy towards his mostly Muslim ethnic minority, who are concentrated in the far western region of Xinjiang.

He and his mother were taken Wednesday to an unknown location by several dozen police who seized their mobile phones and computers, his wife Guzaili Nu’er told AFP. The mother was released on Thursday.

China’s foreign ministry said Tohti had been “criminally detained” because he was “under suspicion of committing crimes and violating the law”.

Ederer said: “I have called on the authorities to treat him in line with Chinese legislation, substantiate the charges, which so far has not happened, inform the family about his whereabouts.

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“If these charges cannot be substantiated, release him,” he added.

The United States on Thursday said Tohti’s detention is “part of a disturbing pattern” of arrests of lawyers, activists, journalists “and others who peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions”.

Responding to the EU and US criticism, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday: “We are opposed to any country or party’s accusation against any other country’s normal enforcement of law under the pretext of human rights.

“We are also opposed to their interference in other countries’ domestic affairs and judicial sovereignty.”

Chinese authorities have largely restricted Liu Xia to her Beijing home since 2010 when her already imprisoned husband — an outspoken advocate of democratic reform — was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

“We remain concerned about Liu Xia’s house arrest,” Ederer said.

Xu faces charges of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”, which carry a potential five-year jail sentence.

His lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, suggested Friday that the trial could start soon after court officials met lawyers to discuss the proceedings.

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