[JURIST] The Chinese government on Sunday released prominent human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong on bail without any explanation. Xu was taken into custody last month and was formally charged [JURIST reports] last week with tax evasion. He was accused of failing to pay taxes [NYT report] on a $100,000 grant from Yale University earmarked for the legal research center of Xu's Gongmeng human rights group. Shortly after he was taken into custody, Chinese officials shut down [JURIST report] the legal research center. Xu may be able to avoid prosecution for the tax evasion charges if he pays a fine [AFP report] and cooperates with Chinese authorities. Though released, Xu will not be able to leave Beijing while the charges are being investigated.
Zhiyong's arrest was the latest in a series of incidents that human rights activists claim are an attempt by the Chinese government to quash dissidence as the 60th anniversary of Communist rule approaches in October. Last month, the Chinese government suspended the licenses of 53 lawyers [press release, in Chinese] in Beijing, including prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, for failing to pass an assessment or failing to register. In June, Chinese authorities charged prominent rights activist Liu Xiaobo [JURIST report] with "inciting subversion of state power" [PRC Criminal Law article 105, PDF]. Liu, who spent two years in prison following the Tiananmen Square [BBC backgrounder] uprising, has long challenged China's one-party rule, and co-authored Charter 08 [text], a petition calling for political reforms in the country.