Chinese Journalist Detained in Beijing, One Day After Human Rights Talk With U.S.

The New York Times


BEIJING — A Chinese journalist who had pressed for the release of a prominent human rights activist was detained Friday, one day after the United States completed annual discussions with China on human rights.

The journalist, Chen Min, 51, widely known by his pen name, Xiao Shu, was called to a meeting with security officials in Beijing at around noon Friday. As he was questioned, he kept a friend informed by text message.

In his last message at 1:50 p.m., Mr. Chen said the officers wanted him to leave Beijing and were threatening him, the friend, Wang Gongquan, said. After that, frantic calls and messages to Mr. Chen went unanswered, Mr. Wang said.

Mr. Chen had helped organize a petition calling for the release of Xu Zhiyong, a legal scholar who inspired a grass-roots anticorruption campaign calling for public officials to declare their assets. Mr. Xu, already under house arrest for more than three months, was detained on July 16 for seeking to “gather people and disrupt social order in a public space.”

The detention of Mr. Chen came as an Obama administration official spoke at the American Embassy here Friday about the results of three days of meetings at the annual U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, which is now in its 18th round.

Uzra Zeya, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said at a news conference that she had “specifically called into question the pattern of arrests and extralegal detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who challenge official policies and actions in China.”

The case of Mr. Xu, 40, was among those Ms. Zeya named as having been raised with the Chinese.

Mr. Xu has worked as a law lecturer, and was previously a member of a local legislative body, the People’s Congress, in Beijing’s Haidian district. In recent years, the college where he is employed, the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications, has barred him from teaching.

Mr. Xu’s recent call for party officials to declare their assets seemed to be in line with the campaign by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to eliminate corruption.

His main offense appears not to have been the cause he pursued, but rather his effort to mobilize a “New Citizens Movement,” which by some estimates had attracted several thousand people. Human Rights Watch estimates 16 people associated with the movement have been detained.

Two other activists who are serving prison terms whose cases were raised with the Chinese were Gao Zhisheng, who defended practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious group banned in China, and Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ms. Zeya said.

The Americans raised the cases of more detained human rights activists, she indicated, than the eight identified by name at the news conference.

The United States government was deeply concerned, Ms. Zeya said, that the Chinese authorities had tried to silence activists by targeting their family members and associates. In that category, she mentioned the families of Liu Xiaobo and Chen Guangcheng, a legal activist who is now in the United States.

The detention of Mr. Chen, the journalist, came after he sent an e-mail Friday saying that he was prepared to endure arrest for the sake of Mr. Xu, the detained rights advocate.

“I have no other choice,” Mr. Chen wrote in the e-mail, which he forwarded to a reporter. “First, in the name of brotherhood, I must act for Xu Zhiyong, my friend of many years. Second, my bottom line is the advancement of civil society. If the authorities violate this bottom line and I go along, that would amount to the bankruptcy of the ethical framework that I have stood by for many years.”

Mr. Chen had worked as an editor and commentator at Southern Weekend, a weekly newspaper with a reputation for combative journalism that offended some officials. He was forced aside in 2011.

He has attracted a wide following among educated Chinese readers with impassioned and sometimes acidic criticisms of censorship and other political restrictions.

Mr. Xi has indicated that proposed economic reforms would not be accompanied by any significant political relaxation. He has instead repeatedly stressed his loyalty to party traditions and political orthodoxy.

On Thursday, Chinese state-run news media featured a commentary from the official Xinhua news agency that warned that if China embraced democratic ideas promoted by liberal intellectuals, it would succumb to turmoil worse than that in the Soviet Union after the collapse of Communism.

These unnamed liberal intellectuals were “creating apocalyptic visions of China’s imminent collapse and vilifying the present socialist system,” the commentary said, accusing the liberals of “blatantly inciting the public to serve as cannon fodder for triggering social turmoil in China.”

Original article