BEIJING -- A prominent Chinese rights advocate who was detained last month has spoken out in a video shot from behind bars at a detention center in Beijing, urging citizens stand up against the government and turn their rights into reality.
The unusual act of defiance by the advocate, Xu Zhiyong, was available for viewing on a number of Web sites Thursday, including YouTube and Voice of America, after being disseminated by his supporters.
Handcuffed and wearing a neon orange jail vest, Mr. Xu, 40, spoke in the video for just over a minute to an unidentified visitor.
"I propose that we all act as citizens, upstanding citizens, and exercise the rights of citizens under the Constitution," he said. "No matter what becomes of this society, however crushed or absurd, this country needs a group of brave citizens to stand up and abide by their convictions, turning their rights, responsibility and dreams into reality."
A Chinese journalist, Chen Min, who has led efforts to secure Mr. Xu's release, said the video was made on Aug. 1 but declined to say who made it. Mr. Xu's lawyer, Liu Weiguo, did not answer calls to his cellphone.
A lawyer with a decade-long record of using litigation, petitions and publicity to seek broader political rights, Mr. Xu was among a number of dissidents whose cases were raised by the State Department at the annual United States-China Human Rights Dialogue held in China last week.
After three days of talks, the acting assistant secretary for human rights, Uzra Zeya, said that the United States believed there was "a deterioration in the overall human rights situation in China," including a pattern of arrests and extralegal detentions of public-interest lawyers like Mr. Xu. Mr. Xu was the first name on a list of eight people that Ms. Zeya said she had discussed with the Chinese authorities.
Mr. Xu was arrested on July 16 on charges of "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place." He had been under informal house detention for more than three months.
Mr. Liu, his lawyer, has said the charges are a baseless effort to silence Mr. Xu, who had been encouraging people to join the New Citizens' Movement, a newly formed group that has demanded that government officials publicly declare their assets.
The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, started an anticorruption campaign after assuming office in November. But Mr. Xu's push to organize citizens around corruption, a sensitive issue for the Communist Party, appears to have pushed the government's limits. His detention has made him the focus of a deepening confrontation between activists and the Communist Party authorities.
Under Chinese law, the government has a little more than a month after Mr. Xu's arrest to formally charge him. Another legal advocate, Teng Biao, a longtime friend of Mr. Xu, said it was likely that Mr. Xu would be convicted, which could result in a prison sentence of up to seven years.
"Xu Zhiyong has many supporters across the country," Mr. Teng said in a telephone interview from northeast China, where he was traveling. "If he is convicted, that will be a huge blow" to activists.
Appearing tired and haggard but speaking with steady conviction, Mr. Xu said in the video that the charges against him were really about his push to abolish discriminatory barriers against schoolchildren from rural areas and calling for public disclosure of officials' wealth.
In the video, Mr. Xu did not discuss the details of his case, but suggested that he was willing to face imprisonment.
"Social progress always demands that someone pays a price," he said. "I am willing to pay all it takes for freedom, the public good, love and faith."
The video of Mr. Xu was largely blocked in China, where censors heavily monitor Web sites and people are prevented from seeing banned sites based abroad unless they have access to technology that can outsmart censorship barriers. The footage appeared, at least briefly, on Youku, a popular Chinese video-sharing site.
Officials at the detention center in Beijing where Mr. Xu's lawyer and friends earlier said he was being held refused to say whether he remained in custody there.
Mr. Xu won nationwide attention in 2003 as an advocate for the family of Sun Zhigang, a young man beaten to death in a detention center for vagrants and rural migrants without the right official documents. The case provoked an outcry against arbitrary detention in those centers, which the government soon abolished.
That case kindled hopes that Mr. Xu and advocates like him would be able to use the courts to push for expanded political and legal rights. But over the past years those efforts have encountered increasing roadblocks, and Mr. Xu and others began to pursue other forms of activism.
In his statement from the detention center, Mr. Xu renewed his call for citizen activism.
"I am proud to have the word citizen put before my name, and I hope that everyone will do the same and put citizen before their names," he said. "We will certainly be able to build a free, public-spirited, loving and beautiful China, as long as we are united and strive together, and make real our rights as citizens."
Jane Perlez reported from Beijing and Chris Buckley from Hong Kong.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.