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China’s most well-known civil rights leader arrested

BEIJING — The formal arrest this week of one of China’s most well-known civil rights advocates underscores how unnerved the country’s new leaders are by any independent, vaguely organized political action — even if it is as mundane as gathering for a dinner party.

Beijing activist Xu Zhiyong, arrested Thursday, is one of the founders of a loose network of campaigners known as the New Citizens Movement, who, among other things, have called for people to get together every month for dinner to discuss China’s constitution and other legal issues.

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Xu had been detained last month by Beijing police in the latest blow by Chinese authorities against a beleaguered activist community that has seen a widespread crackdown against peaceful assembly.

Zhang Qingfang, a lawyer for Xu, said his partner learned of Xu’s formal arrest from Beijing’s prosecuting office Thursday and that the arrest document should be delivered to Xu’s family soon.

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