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Chinese professor fired over free speech

BEIJING — Officials at one of China's most respected universities have reportedly fired an outspoken legal scholar for advocating free speech and for repeatedly calling on the government to abide by its own constitution.

Zhang Xuezhong, who teaches at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, said administrators had notified him Monday that he would be dismissed after he refused to apologize for writings that championed the protections guaranteed by China's Constitution. Zhang's teaching privileges were temporarily suspended in August after the publication of an article detailing the Communist Party's growing hostility to the nation's legal system.

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"I told them I had made no mistakes whatsoever," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I'm just a university faculty member who expresses his own opinions, thoughts, and proposals, which is absolutely my right. This is an out-and-out witch hunt."

University officials did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment. But in an internal school memo that Zhang obtained and circulated online Tuesday, officials also cited an e-book he wrote this year called "New Common Sense: The Nature and Consequences of One-Party Dictatorship." According to the notice, Zhang violated university rules by "forcibly disseminating his political views among the faculty and using his status as a teacher to spread his political views among students."

The dismissal is sure to send a chill through Chinese academia, which has come under increasing pressure amid an ideological campaign that seeks to rein in liberalism and promote obedience to the ruling Communist Party.

Zhang, 47, has had run-ins with school administrators over his writings, but their unhappiness with him deepened in May after he publicized the contents of a secret document, produced by the central government, detailing seven subjects that are not allowed to be discussed in Chinese classrooms. The banned topics included democracy, freedom of speech, and past mistakes of the Communist Party.

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But it was his defense of China's 1982 Constitution that ran head-on into a campaign by the Chinese leadership that seeks to bolster the supremacy of the party.