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Anti-Corruption People's Congress Candidate Abducted and Harassed

September 21, 2007

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that an outspoken delegate to a local People’s Congress in Xi'an has been subjected to serious abuse and harassment, including being abducted by local officials, threatened, and beaten.

Sources in China told HRIC that Zhang Zongai, a former lecturer at Xi'an's Northwest University and the Xi'an Institute of Statistics, has received substantial public support as a candidate in Xi'an's Yanta District because of his stand against corruption. However, local officials reportedly controlled the election and refused to publicize the voting outcome, simply leaving Zhang's name off the list of successful candidates.

HRIC urges local officials to disclose the number of votes received by each candidate in the election, as a means of promoting transparency and assuring the public that there has been no official manipulation of the outcome.

Zhang Zongai told HRIC that on September 1, he put out a placard on the street stating his political position, and attracted considerable public interest, including a number of interviews by local journalists. The head of the state security squad of the Xi'an Municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB) soon drove over, and on the grounds of "maintaining public order," forcibly removed Zhang. However, even though Zhang had only been allowed to campaign on the street for about two hours, his political statement was posted on the Huashang Wang (Chinese Merchant) website and attracted a strong public reaction. Within a matter of days, many local residents telephoned and said they would vote for him.

On September 16, two days before the election, while Zhang was handing out leaflets on the street, three young men, who identified themselves as sent by the Xiying Lu PSB dispatch station, forced Zhang into a car and took him to the security office of his former work unit, the Institute of Statistics. Zhang was detained there for seven hours, during which he was repeatedly questioned about who was helping him with his campaigning, and accused of attacking corrupt officials as a means of attacking the government and the Communist Party. Zhang was reportedly told that if he continued with his campaign, he would be beaten to death.

On September 17, Zhang Zongai sent a letter of protest to the Party secretariat of the Institute of Statistics, accusing the institute’s security office of conducting a kangaroo court, and abducting a candidate as a means of infringing his right to participate in the election. Zhang also went to the district voting station to report the situation, but staff there did not want to get involved.

On September 18, the day of the election, Zhang Zongai continued to receive many phone calls from members of the public saying they would vote for him. The next day, the results of the election were announced, and Zhang's name was not included. The list of successful candidates did not include the number of votes they received. When Zhang went to the Institute of Statistics to learn more, he was refused entry.

Zhang Zongai, 67, graduated with a degree in Mathematics from Northwest University, and taught there for many years. From 1987 to 1989, he served as an elected delegate to the Xi'an City Yanta District People's Congress. After the violent crackdown on the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Zhang protested to the central government as a People's Congress delegate, and as a result was detained and sentenced to five years in prison. Following his release, in 1995 Zhang signed an open letter entitled, "A Lesson Drawn From Blood: Promoting Progress in Democratization and Rule of Law," and was subsequently sentenced to another five years in prison for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement." In his political statement for the current election (appended to the Chinese version of this press release), Zhang disclosed his previous imprisonment and the reasons behind it. His platform included his intention to fight for a better life for Xi'an's poorest residents.

HRIC deplores the harassment, abuse, and threats used to intimidate Zhang Zongai simply for running for political office and peacefully expressing his views. These tactics undermine recent official moves towards encouraging local elections and participatory governance. HRIC urges local officials to disclose the number of votes received by each candidate in the election, as a means of promoting transparency and assuring the public that there has been no official manipulation of the outcome.