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Chinese Law Professor Critical of President Xi Jinping Detained in Beijing

FILE - Paramilitary police officers march in formation near a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the gate to the Forbidden City, in Beijing, China, May 22, 2020.

A Chinese law professor who has written essays critical of President Xi Jinping’s governance has reportedly been detained in Beijing.

Friends of Xu Zhangrun say the writer and academic was taken from his home early Monday morning by more than a dozen police officers. The New York Times, quoting his friend Geng Xiaonan, says a computer and papers were also taken from the home.

Geng says she learned from Xu’s wife that police told her Xu was accused of soliciting prostitutes during a recent visit to the southwestern city of Chengdu.

Xu Zhangrun taught law at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University for several years until 2019, when he was banned from teaching and researching after publishing an essay condemning President Xi’s tightening grip on power. He had recently been placed under house arrest.

An essay he published in February blamed the culture of secrecy and deception for the spread of the novel coronavirus in China, which was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan before evolving into a pandemic that has sickened over 11.4 million people around the globe, killing more than 534,000.

Xu is the latest prominent figure to have been arrested this year for criticizing Xi over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Millionaire property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was detained in April.

The arrests are part of President Xi’s increasing crackdown on dissenting voices in China, highlighted by the new national security law for Hong Kong that has criminalized open protest.