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The “soft-spoken and politically shrewd” Xu Zhiyong, 36, could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of tax evasion, the New York Times reports.
Xu made a name for himself representing migrant workers, death row inmates and the parents of babies poisoned by tainted milk, and the government’s accusation is mostly seen in China as a cover for his try offense, “angering the Communist Party leadership through his advocacy of the rule of law”.
The detention followed the shutdown of legal aid organisation, the Open Constitution Initiative, which Xu helped to establish.
The crackdown on human rights lawyers has intensified in recent weeks, with 53 lawyers disbarred earlier this year. Another human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, disappeared into police custody six months ago, while blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng was beaten and jailed for revealing abuses in China's birth-control program.
Last week, China’s justice minister announced all law firms in China would be overseen by party liaisons, who would "guide their work". The minister said lawyers' first precept should be to obey the Communist Party and maintain social harmony.