04/19/2013, 00.00
CHINA

Eight people arrested for demanding party officials reveal their wealth

by Wang Zhicheng
Lawyers and activists take to the streets with banners and launch online petitions asking that all the members of the Central Committee release a list of their wealth, something that Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping had already requested. Police detain activists for "disrupting the public order." But the problem of corruption in the Party remains.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - At least eight people were arrested for publicly calling on top Communist Party officials to reveal their wealth and that of their families. Former president Hu Jintao and current President Xi Jinping had made the same request in the past, but so far to no avail.

Two days ago, lawyer Ding Jiaxi was arrested for "illegal gathering" after he held a street demonstration calling on officials to be transparent about their financial assets. Police also raided his home and seized his computers and mobile phones.

The same night, police also took away activist Zhao Changqing for the same reason, taking his computers, cameras and mobile phones.

Ding Jiaxi, 45, a human rights lawyer, has defended politically "sensitive" cases in recent years, including that of Chen Kegui, the jailed nephew of activist Chen Guangcheng, and imprisoned Tibetans.

Police accuse Ding and Zhao of involvement in a group, "New Citizens Movement", which is demanding that party officials reveal their wealth.

Campaigners have been calling since December for citizens to join an online petition campaign to demand that the 205 members of the Communist Party's Central Committee disclose their family wealth. Some 7,673 people had signed by early this month.

Zhao Changqing, 44, has been very active in pro-democracy and human rights campaigns for decades. He was a student leader during the 1989 Tiananmen protests and was imprisoned for six months for his role. He was jailed two more times for his pro-democracy activities (in 1997 and 2002) for "inciting subversion against state power," for three and five years, respectively.

Not since Tiananmen had a group so openly challenged the leadership of the party's power structure, to fight corruption. The irony is that Xi Jinping, the new party secretary and president, made the latter a key element of his campaign against corrupt officials, albeit without any results to date.

On the contrary, corruption in the Communist Party has been growing more and more, so much so as to bring it, in Xi Jinping's own words, to the verge of collapse.

Yet, just before his election as party secretary, foreign media published revelations about the Xi family's wealth. A few months later, the New York Times did the same for then Premier Wen Jiabao.

In an attempt to moralise the Party, Xi preached sobriety, banning expensive banquets and trips, but not a day goes by without fresh scandals coming to light.

Recently, after disgraced former party Chongqing chief Bo Xilai, his wife, and former Railways Minister Liu Zhijun were brought down by scandal, Cai Bin, a senior official with the Guangzhou Municipal Urban Management and Law Enforcement Bureau, was embroiled in another major dustup with the law when the media revealed that he owned 22 properties, valued at 35.5 million yuan (US$ 5.7 million), all this on a monthly salary of 10,000 yuan (US$ 1,600).

Against this background, high inflation and the gap between rich and poor are driving people to accuse the party of bleeding the people, not serving it. Yet, more members of the 'New Citizens Movement' have arrested.

On Tuesday, police detained Sun Hanhui, reportedly on suspicion of "unlawful assembly." A day earlier, Beijing resident Wang Yonghong, who is also involved in the "New Citizens Movement," was held on a charge of "disrupting social order."

Four activists who held banners in Xidan Culture Square in Beijing on 31 March calling for greater disclosure of assets were detained. Yuan Dong, Zhang Baocheng, Hou Xin and Ma Xinli were accused of "illegal gathering" and held at a police detention centre. Hou was later released on bail but the others remained in custody.

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