China: Founder of popular Aegean Sea Web site arrested

New York, September 20, 2006— The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the arrest in China of the founder of Aegean Sea, the popular Web site closed down March 9. Zhang Jianhong was detained September 6 on allegations of “inciting subversion” through his online political essays, according to news reports and CPJ sources. Zhang’s most recent Internet essay, written under the pen name Li Hong, was sharply critical of the government’s treatment of Chinese citizens two years ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Zhang’s detention comes amid a sustained crackdown on dissident journalists, essayists, activists, lawyers and scholars who use the Internet to advocate for citizens’ rights, protest human rights abuses or call for greater democracy. Activist Yang Maodong (who goes by the pen name Guo Feixiong), and China Democracy Party activist Chen Shuqing were jailed last week on charges of illegal publishing and inciting subversion through their online writings.

“China, which invited international scrutiny when it agreed to host the 2008 Olympic Games, remains determined to stifle all domestic criticism,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to release Zhang Jianhong immediately, and abide by the commitments that the government has made ahead of the Games to allow media freedoms.”

Authorities have not clarified their allegations against Zhang, but many of his essays were highly critical of central government actions. An essay written two days before his detention called attention to international organizations’ criticism of the government’s human rights record and in particular the poor treatment of journalists and their sources two years before the start of the Olympics. Zhang referred to the situation as “Olympicgate.”

Police took Zhang from his home in Ningbo, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, according to Chinese-language online news reports and CPJ sources. His computer equipment was confiscated and his family was later notified by the local Public Security Bureau that he had been arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state authority,” a crime that brings a prison sentence of several years.

Zhang, 48, was a founder and editor of the popular literary and news Web site Aegean Sea (Aiqinhai) until it was closed in March for unauthorized posting of international and domestic news. He had also been a recent contributor to several U.S.-based Chinese-language Web sites, including Boxun, the pro-democracy forum Minzhu Luntan, and Epoch Times, which is affiliated with the banned Chinese religious group Falun Gong.