Chinese police are still holding a citizen journalist detained during the G20 summit in Hangzhou last month, prompting calls for her release from an international rights group concerned that she may be at risk of torture.
Qin Chao, who hails from Wugang city in the central province of Henan, was detained on Aug. 30 alongside five other contributors to the Tianwang rights website ahead of the Sept. 4-5 G20 summit.
She was initially held on a 10-day administrative sentence, before being criminally detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” the London-based rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.
She is being held at the police-run Baofeng County Detention Center in Henan’s Pingdingshan city, it said.
Tianwang contributor Yuan Ying was also detained and held in a similar manner to Qin by police in the the southwestern province of Sichuan.
However, she was released on Oct. 27.
“Sources have attributed international pressure, including action taken by Amnesty International, to her release,” the group’s statement said.
Four other citizen journalists from the website, Lin Xiurong, Jiang Chengfen, Yang Xiuqiong, and He Yazhen, were also briefly detained for covering protests linked to the G20 summit, which prompted some of the strictest security arrangements ever seen ahead of a major international event in China.
Call for release
Amnesty called on the Chinese government to “Immediately and unconditionally release Qin Chao who has been detained for exercising her right to freedom of expression.”
It urged authorities to take steps to ensure that Qin has unrestricted access to family and lawyers and isn’t subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in detention.
“[We urge the government to] stop the harassment and detention of journalists, citizens and others who report on protests and other sensitive issues of public interest,” it said.
Yuan Ying told RFA soon after her release that she had been criminally detained on the more serious charge of “incitement to subvert state power.”
“I was taken first to the police cells, where they locked me up for 15 days on charges of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” Yuan said.
“Then they took me to the detention center where they held me for 37 days on charges of incitement to subvert state power,” she said.
“The officers investigating the case interrogated me every day, for more than four hours each time,” Yuan said, adding that she was released “on bail,” in spite of having refused the offer.
Peaceful activists released from police detention on “bail” have complained that they remain under police surveillance and travel restrictions, while some lose touch with their previous social circle on release.
China’s citizen journalists are often petitioners, people who pursue long-running complaints against official wrongdoing and who later start contributing reports to Tianwang about abuses suffered by fellow petitioners.
Yuan started working for Tianwang after seeking compensation for her forcible eviction and the demolition of her home, to no avail.
She said police also wanted details about the activities of Chengdu-based Tianwang founder and organizer dissident Huang Qi.
“They were asking me about Huang Qi, and also about the photos I took when I was petitioning in Beijing, and the banner I put up there,” Yuan said.
“Mostly they were asking about Huang Qi, and they told me not to work for him any more,” she said. “They said he is opposing the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party and is anti-society.”
“They said his website has been banned by the government.”
Five now released
Huang told RFA on Friday that five of the Tianwang contributors have now been released.
“They have released five people, and now it’s only Qin Chao who is still locked up in the detention center,” he said. “I hope that the authorities will release [her] very soon.”
He said Yuan had fought not to be released on bail, but unconditionally.
“They released her on bail, which means that she could now be sent back to jail at any time they want,” Huang said.
Huang was himself detained for 24 hours last week ahead of a top-level political meeting in Beijing, returning home only to find that his entire house had been searched.
“The main reason they summoned me was the sixth plenum [of the Communist Party Central Committee] and some reports that Tianwang had published,” Huang said in an earlier interview with RFA, after arriving home last week.
“They demanded that I retract some reports they said were fabricated, but I refused,” he said. “I have evidence from people involved, as well as government documents and photos and video to prove it.”
The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently nominated Tianwang and Not The News (Fei Xinwen), a report on popular protests in China run by detained bloggers Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, for the 2016 Press Freedom Award.
“Authoritarian regimes cracked down harder on journalists and bloggers in 2016,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a statement announcing the nominees. “RSF hails the courage and determination of all these women and men with a common commitment to fighting for freedom of information.”
And RSF programme director Lucie Morillon said: “A significant number of the nominees are unfortunately in the process of being prosecuted or are languishing in jail solely because they wanted to inform their fellow citizens about matters of public interest.”
Lu Yuyu was detained alongside his girlfriend Li Tingyu on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” by police in the southwestern province of Yunnan on June 16.
The pair were detained after compiling daily lists of “mass incidents” like protests and riots that are largely ignored in the country’s tightly controlled state media, making the results public via Google, Twitter, and Weibo, using the handle @wickedonnaa.
Li was forced to drop out of a translation and interpretation degree at Guangzhou’s prestigious Zhongshan University after publishing articles out of the reach of Chinese government internet censors. She has told her lawyer she won’t plead guilty, making a harsher punishment more likely.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Goh Fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.