While Ai Weiwei's surprising release dominated the headlines yesterday, the Chinese government took the chance to detain one of China's most important civil rights lawyers, Xu Zhiyong. Rumors of his disappearance on Wednesday were confirmed first on Twitter and then in a Financial Times article today. However, a post on his Twitter feed suggests that he has since been released. A rough translation:
Thanks everyone for your concern. I've returned home. Last night I was taken away in order to prevent me from taking non-registered permanent residence parents in Beijing to the Ministry of Education to petition for the 12th time.
The last sentence refers to his recent efforts to push for reforms in China's hukou (residency permit) system, which makes it extremely difficult for children of migrant workers to attend schools in the cities to which their parents have moved.
Xu first gained fame as a legal reformer in 2003, when he successfully pushed to end China's extrajudicial system of "black jails." As the head of the Open Constitution Initiative, his clients have included the families of the victims of the China's recent tainted-milk scandal. This spring, he has also been providing legal assistance to the independent candidates' movement gathering steam in China. He himself mounted successful runs in 2003 and 2006 as an independent candidate for a seat in the People's Congress of his home district in Beijing.
Two down, 130 to go.