Police in China have arrested a prominent activist who had been a fugitive for weeks and criticized President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic while in hiding, a rights group said on Tuesday.
Anti-corruption activist Xu Zhiyong was arrested on Saturday after being on the run since December, according to Amnesty International.
China’s ruling Communist Party has severely curtailed civil liberties since Xi took power in 2012, rounding up rights lawyers, labour activists and even Marxist students.
The death this month of a whistleblowing doctor who was reprimanded by police for raising the alarm about the deadly new virus before dying of it himself triggered rare calls for political reform and freedom of speech.
The “Chinese government’s battle against the coronavirus has in no way diverted it from its ongoing general campaign to crush all dissenting voices,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, in an emailed statement.
Another source, who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity, said Xu had been arrested in the southern city of Guangzhou.
Guangzhou police did not respond to requests for comment.
Xu went into hiding after authorities broke up a December gathering of intellectuals discussing political reform in the eastern coastal city of Xiamen in Fujian province, prior to the coronavirus crisis.
Over a dozen lawyers and activists were detained or disappeared after the Xiamen gathering, according to rights groups – and Xu’s detention appears linked to his presence at the meeting, explained Poon.