Online writer indicted, another missing in China

New York, March 28, 2011–Police indicted one online writer on anti-state charges in Sichuan today and another disappeared in Guangzhou on Sunday, according to international news reports. Both cases appear part of the Chinese Communist Party’s strenuous efforts to suppress their critics and pre-empt a “Jasmine Revolution” in China, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.  

Detained blogger Ran Yunfei’s wife received formal notice today that he has been indicted on antistate charges, according to international news reports. Police took the outspoken Sichuan-based writer, who also edits a literary magazine, for questioning on February 20 and officially detained him four days later on suspicion of inciting subversion, according to CPJ research. Some reports initially said he faced a charge of subverting state power. Reuters confirmed today’s notice was for inciting subversion, a charge CPJ research shows is frequently used against dissident writers.

In a separate case, Yang Hengjun, a prominent Sydney-based Chinese-language blogger and author, went missing Sunday. His supporters are concerned he may have been detained, according to a colleague using Yang’s Twitter feed and Australian national daily The Age. “This evening Yang telephoned me from the airport Guangzhou and said three men were following him. Since then I haven’t been able to reach him,” the Twitter message said. The Age reported that it is believed Yang carries an Australian passport.

Dozens of democracy advocates and outspoken government detractors were interrogated, detained, restrained in their houses, or simply disappeared after an overseas Chinese website posted anonymous calls in mid-February for Chinese citizens to hold demonstrations inspired by unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, according to international news reports.

“The Chinese government is going to extraordinary lengths to intimidate prominent critics in the wake of calls for reform,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Charges against Ran Yunfei should be immediately dropped, and police in Guangzhou must clarify Yang Hengjun’s status and ensure his freedom.”

Yang, a novelist who formerly worked in China’s Foreign Ministry with a widely-read blog, was a signatory to Charter 08, an appeal for democratic reform co-drafted by the imprisoned 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, according to The Age. Ran Yunfei also signed the Charter, Reuters said.

Liu Xiaobo and another Charter 08 signatory, Liu Xianbin, who are not related, are each serving unusually heavy sentences for inciting subversion of state power based on online writings, according to CPJ research. While the charge normally carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo was given 11 years. Liu Xianbin, who like Ran Yunfei was based in Sichuan, was sentenced to 10 years on Friday.

Although demands by the Chinese Jasmine revolutionaries called for government reform rather than regime change, and turnout was low, the official response has been comprehensive and repressive. Police and security officials in plainclothes grouped in force at the sites of planned protests, beating and detaining foreign journalists, who have also been threatened with expulsion for conducting interviews without permission. Internet censorship has been stepped up.