Huang Qi, founder of Sichuan-based website 64 Tianwang, who has not been heard from since he was taken away on November 28th, has been formally arrested for “leaking state secrets”, according to Amnesty International. He still does not have access to a lawyer.
The family of Huang Qi received a written notification from the Mianyang City Public Security Bureau on December 16th, more than two weeks after he first went missing, that he was being detained at Mianyang City Detention and has been formally arrested for “leaking state secrets”. No further explanation about the allegations were provided.
Huang Qi, 53, was taken from his home in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, by 15 public security officers from three cities in Sichuan: Mianyang, Neijiang and Chengdu, on November 28th. Huang Qi’s detention has occurred amid a recent crackdown on human rights defenders in China and, without access to a lawyer of his choice, there are still fears that he could be subjected to torture or ill-treatment. Further concerns for his wellbeing have been raised as Huang Qi suffers from acute nephritis, a kidney disorder, and needs daily medication.
Pu Wenqing, Huang Qi’s 83-year-old mother, returned home on December 16th after having not been heard from since she was taken to a hospital in Sichuan on November 30th. The circumstances surrounding her hospital visit remain unclear, however sources confirm that she now remains under tight surveillance.
“64 Tianwang”, founded by Sichuan activist Huang Qi and his wife Zeng Li in 1998, is one of the few major mainland-based websites that reports and documents petitioners’ protests in China. Most of the website’s contributors were first petitioners before becoming citizen journalists to report on other petitioners’ protests and arrests.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced in November that “64 Tianwang” had won the 2016 Press Freedom Award, along with detained Chinese bloggers Lu Yuyu and Li Tingting and Syrian reporter Hadi Abdullah.
“One of the few major independent news websites in China, 64 Tianwang and its citizen-journalists are still being systematically hounded by the Chinese authorities 12 years after its founder, Huang Qi, was awarded RSF’s Press Freedom Prize in the cyber-dissident category,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said. “Huang’s abduction is part of an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders in China and fears are growing that the authorities may be mistreating and torturing him. We call for his immediate and unconditional release.”
This is the third time Huang Qi has been detained this year. He was first taken away for “forced travel” – a common practice where state security police take activists and petitioners outside of their towns during sensitive periods – following protests by land eviction victims July 22-24th at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Chengdu. The second occasion was on October 24th when Huang Qi was questioned by the public security officers from Chengdu, during the Sixth Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee in Beijing October 24-27th. He was released the following day.
Over the years, Huang Qi and other “64 Tianwang” contributors have been frequently detained or harassed by the Chinese authorities. Huang Qi has been imprisoned twice. He was first detained in June 2000 – the 11th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown – before being convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to five years in May 2003. He was again detained and later imprisoned for three years after exposing the substandard building scandal following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan.
According to “64 Tianwang”, their journalists, who are mostly petitioners turned citizen journalists, have been questioned or placed under brief detention more than 100 times since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, and at least 30 have been imprisoned or criminally detained. Eight of “64 Tianwang”’s journalists are currently in prison, including Wang Jing, Zhang Jixin, Li Min, Sun Enwei, Li Chunhua, Wei Wenyuan, Xiao Jianfang and Yang Dongying.
Huang Qi’s disappearance coincided with the disappearance of Beijing human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who was last heard from on November 21st and is said to also be in police custody for allegedly “leaking state secrets”, as well as the detention of Hubei-based “Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch” website founder Liu Feiyue, who is criminally detained on suspicion of “subverting state power” on November 18th.
China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, while President Xi Jiping is on RSF’s list of press freedom predators.