China: Crackdown Continues — Wang Gongquan, a supporter of a nascent Chinese civil rights movement, is formally arrested in Beijing as crackdown on dissent continues
By Tom Phillips, Shanghai
A group of leading intellectuals, authors and businesspeople has demanded the release of a jailed Chinese billionaire, accusing Beijing of waging a “hopeless” campaign of “political persecution” against its critics.
Wang Gongquan, a venture capitalist who supports a recently formed civil society group called the New Citizens’ Movement, was formally arrested by Beijing police on Sunday, having been initially detained on September 13.
Mr Wang, who is close to Xu Zhiyong, the movement’s jailed founder, has been accused of “gathering crowds to disturb public order”.
However, supporters say the charge has been trumped up and believe Mr Wang is the latest victim of a renewed crackdown on government critics that has gained pace this year under China’s new president Xi Jinping.
Several dozen supporters of the New Citizens’ Movement are currently being detained, activists say, with at least three of them likely to face trial in the coming weeks.
In an online petition, supporters of the jailed billionaire wrote: “Wang Gongquan is not guilty in any sense. Not only is he innocent, but his actions may well leave their mark on history.”
“Wang Gongquan is an honest and righteous person,” the statement added, arguing that his detention had served only to spread his ideas further.
On Monday, Zhang Ming, a political scientist and activist who was among the first signatories, told The Telegraph: “If we don’t make our voices heard, nothing will change.”
The charges being levelled at Mr Wang were “nonsense,” he added.
Zhang Xuezhong, a Shanghai-based rights lawyer who represents another member of the New Citizens’ Movement, said he believed detaining such a well-known and respected figure would backfire on Beijing.
“I think it is a big mistake by the government,” he said, speaking before news of Mr Wang’s formal arrest emerged.
“Mr Wang is a big success. People will think: ‘If even a person like Wang Gongquan can afford to go to prison, what should we be afraid of?’”
Zhang said he believed the crackdown would inspire rather than silence critics. “The more people they detain, the less fear there will be. When going to prison becomes normal, people will not be afraid.”
Tags: China, Chinaese, Chinese billionaire, Chinese civil rights movement, Communist Party, corruption, crackdown, crackdown on dissent, crackdown on government critics, denial of human rights, free speech, government critics, human rights, New Citizens' Movement, one-party, political persecution, Wang Gongquan, Xi Jinping, Xu Zhiyong