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China professor says sacked for criticizing president and not recanting

SHANGHAI - A Chinese university has fired a professor for failing to admit wrongdoing in posting an article criticizing President Xi Jinping, the academic said on Wednesday, underscoring questions about academic freedoms for foreign colleges setting up shop in China.

Many liberals had hoped that the new government under Xi, who became president in March, would be more tolerant of calls for political reform.

But the sacking of law professor Zhang Xuezhong on Monday by the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai appeared to be fresh evidence the ruling party is hardening its stance toward dissent.

The sacking follows the dismissal of liberal Peking University economist Xia Yeliang in October for blog posts calling for democratic reforms and rule of law in China.

Zhang's article, which he posted in June, and an online book he wrote entitled "New Common Sense" that was critical of Communist Party rule, rankled authorities and he said university officials tried on several occasions to get him to recant.

He was suspended from teaching in August. Last month, law department and human resources officials asked if he had learned his lesson and would admit wrongdoing, he said on Wednesday.

"I said I did nothing wrong, so there's nothing to admit to," he told Reuters.

The dean of the law school summoned him and said on Monday that the school administration had decided he was unfit to continue as a teacher in the law department.

"I told him that for a university to persecute a teacher based on his views or thoughts is a serious public event. It could become a scandal of historic proportions," said Zhang, 36, who also practises human rights law.

A law school official with the same surname declined to comment when contacted by telephone. Calls to the university's information and propaganda office, to which she referred Reuters, went unanswered.

Zhang's June article "The Origin and the Perils of the Anti-constitutionalism Campaign of 2013" criticised Xi, also Communist Party chief, as anti-constitutional, anti-free media and anti-judicial independence. His online book, "New Common Sense", says one-party rule is illegal.

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In this Friday, June 7 file photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping pauses during a meeting with President Barack Obama at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, in Rancho Mirage, Calif.


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