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China 12 June 2008

Cyber-dissident Huang Qi kidnapped, foreign journalists arrested in Sichuan

(PNG) Reporters Without Borders is worried about the kidnapping of leading cyber-dissident Huang Qi, the founder of the human rights website 64Tianwang. He and two other activists were forced to get into a car by three unidentified men at around 7 p.m. on 10 June in Chengdu, the capital of the earthquake-hit province of Sichuan.

The Chengdu police claim they know nothing about their whereabouts but their abduction bears all the hallmarks of an operation by the Bureau of Public Security and could be linked to the arrest the previous day of Zheng Hongling, a retired university professor who posted a series of three articles about the earthquake on a US-based website.

“The abduction of Huang and his two companions one month to the day after the Sichuan earthquake shows that the crackdown on press freedom activists continues,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the authorities to conduct an investigation to find out where they are, and to free them at once.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We also voice our support for Zheng, who was just using her right to free expression when she wrote three articles criticising the way the authorities in Mianyang, the city where she lives, handled earthquake relief operations. We call for her immediate release as well.”

The editor of the 64Tianwang website, Zhang Guo Ting, said he thought the abduction was linked to the latest article posted by Huang, which was about Zheng’s arrest on a charge of “divulging information abroad.” Aged 53 and a former professor at the University of Technology of the Southwest, Zheng and her husband fled from the earthquake damage in Mianyang on 12 May and went to stay with a friend, Huang Shaopu, in Chengdu.

From there, Zheng wrote her three articles, entitled “Tales of my adventures during the earthquake,” for Observe China, a Chinese website hosted in the United States. She was charged on 9 June with publishing articles criticising the authorities for not letting NGOs do their job. She is being held in Mianyang prison. Huang Shaopu was questioned by the police because the articles were sent from his computer, but he said he did not know they were being published.

Every since the earthquake, 44-year-old Huang Qi had been posting articles on 64Tianwang criticising the way the relief was being organised. He wrote on 20 May: “The reports we are seeing are biased. In reality, it is very difficult for NGOs to deliver food aid. They are obliged to go through government channels. The government is using its propaganda to portray itself as a saviour to little avail. Few citizens trust the government because of the corruptions scandals that already occurred during similar disasters in the past.”

Huang spent five years in Nanchong high security prison after being arrested on 3 June 2000, the eve of the 11th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. He was charged with subversion under articles 103 and 105 of the criminal code for posting articles about the massacre by exiled dissidents on his website, which he originally created as bulletin board for messages about missing persons.

Reporters Without Borders awarded him its Cyber-Freedom Prize in 2004 for his online defence of free expression and human rights.

Meanwhile police today expelled around 10 foreign journalists from a neighbourhood of Dujiangyan, one of the cities that was badly hit by the earthquake, Agence France-Presse reported. Two of them worked for the French agency. They were trying to do a story about a school that collapsed in the quake. Police manhandled some of the journalists and damaged their equipment.

“We are seeing an all-out hunt for press representatives, with police and soldiers blocking access roads and searching all vehicles,” said Tom Van de Weghe, the China correspondent of Belgian radio and TV broadcaster VRT, who was arrested in Dujiangyan and Juyan. Yesterday, the Sichuan authorities had nonetheless renewed press accreditation for journalists wanting to visit quake-hit areas.

More information about Chinese government restrictions on press freedom regarding the 12 May earthquake in Sichuan

The interview that Huang Qi’s wife gave to TF1 in 2003

The October 2007 report “Journey to the Heart of Internet censorship”

Articles on Zheng Hongling (in Chinese):

16.06 - Huang Qi suspected of “illegal possession of state secrets”

Reporters Without Borders today called for charges to be dropped against cyber-dissident Huang Qi who has been in custody since 10 June suspected by police of “illegally holding state secrets”.

His family said he had been arrested because of news posted on his website, which chiefly reports on the organisation of humanitarian aid.

“With two months to go before the Olympic Games, this arrest is yet another provocation, which is in contradiction with the openness promoted by the government during the earthquake that shook Sichuan province on 12 May”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

Huang Qi was only doing his duty of informing Internet users of the plight of victims of the earthquake”, the organisation added.

Witnesses saw three people bundle Huang and two colleagues into a car in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, on the evening of 10 June. They were reported missing two days later. Police in Chengdu said they had received communist party orders not to give out any information about the case.

Haung’s wife, Zeng Li, has asked the lawyer Mo Shaoping to defend him. Mo has defended many human rights activists, including the journalist Li Changqing, former deputy news editor of the Fuzhou Daily, and Zhao Yan, formerly of the New York Times.

Huang Qi founded the website 64 Tianwang, which posts news about human rights. The editor of the website, Zhang Guo Ting, said it was possible that the case was linked to the latest article posted by Huang Qi about the arrest of a retired professor from the Technology University of the South-West, Zheng Hongling, aged 53, for “divulging news abroad“.

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