One online journalist arrested, one missing in Chengdu

New York, June 13, 2008—Chinese police arrested Internet writer Zeng Hongling in Chengdu, the capital of the earthquake-hit province of Sichuan, on Monday for publishing personal accounts of the earthquake on overseas Chinese-language Web sites, according to news reports and a Chinese press freedom advocate. Three days later, a well-known Internet publisher and human rights advocate, Huang Qi, went missing in Chengdu on Thursday after his Web site publicized Zeng’s arrest, according to news reports.

Huang, the founder of human rights center and Web site 6-4tianwang, spent five years in prison after authorities accused him of inciting subversion through articles posted on the site in 2000. 6-4tianwang reported on sensitive issues including parents protesting shoddy school construction in the weeks following the earthquake. News reports have speculated that authorities detained Huang because of his work related to the earthquake. Authorities did not respond to requests for information, according to The Associated Press.

“The arrest and the disappearance of these two reporters suggest that authorities in the earthquake zone are beginning to punish those trying to publish information about the terrible disaster in May,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “The government in Beijing must protect journalists in Sichuan who are attacked for their reporting rather than spare local Communist Party officials from embarrassment.”

Police provided Zeng’s family with official notice that she had been detained on a charge of illegally providing intelligence overseas, according to Zhang Yu of the Chinese Independent PEN Center. Zhang had spoken with Huang Shaofu, a close family friend, who originally reported Zeng’s arrest to 6-4tianwang.

Zeng had been staying with Huang Shaofu since her home in Mianyang was damaged in the May 12 earthquake and had used his computer to send three articles about her experience during the disaster abroad, according to Zhang and the account published on 6-4tianwang. The articles, which were critical of Mianyang authorities’ responses to the earthquake, were published and reposted under a penname on several overseas Chinese-language Web sites in late May, Zhang told CPJ.

In one of the articles, Zeng condemned the sycophancy of Mianyang official Tan Li. Several thousand people in China viewed or commented on an online debate which roundly condemned Tan Li for insensitively smiling in a photograph after the earthquake, according to a report by the London-based Guardian on June 1.

The day after 6-4tianwang reported the news about Zeng, the Web site said its own founder, Huang, had been forced into a car with two friends and is still missing. Agence France-Presse identified the two friends as a lawyer and a professor and said none of the three have been reached since they were reported missing.

Huang was the first Web site publisher to be charged with inciting subversion in China. Chinese authorities repeatedly delayed his trial in 2001 while the International Olympic Committee was considering Beijing’s successful bid for the 2008 Olympics. He was released in 2005.

The 6-4tianwang article about Zeng said she was a retired university professor in Mianyang, in northwest Sichuan.

A CPJ report, Falling Short, documents China’s failure to meet press freedom pledges made when the Olympics were awarded in 2001.