[JURIST] Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong has been charged with tax evasion, his lawyer said Tuesday. Xu is 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. Xu was taken into custody last month, shortly after Chinese officials shut down [JURIST reports] the legal research center. Human Rights in China (HRIC) [advocacy website] said Tuesday that Chinese officials had completely shut down [press release] Gongmeng's operations. HRIC executive director Sharon Hom said:
The legal prosecution of Xu Zhiyong and the shutdown of Gongmeng are not isolated incidents. Rather, these official actions reflect a policy of suppression of independent civil society organizations. The misuse of law and legal process to intimidate and control these organizations present a grave challenge to Chinas legal reform and the growth of its civil society.
If convicted, Xu could face up to seven years in prison. An indictment is expected shortly.
Zhiyong's formal arrest is 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.