Chinese journalist Jia Jia disappears, whereabouts unknown

March 17, 2016 5:43 PM ET

New York, March 17, 2015 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by reports that Chinese journalist Jia Jia disappeared on Tuesday night and that his whereabouts remain a mystery.

Jia, a Beijing-based freelance journalist, columnist at the website Tencent Online, and former editor at the news website Initium Media, disappeared the night of March 15 while traveling from his home in Beijing to Hong Kong, where he was scheduled to give a talk at the City University of Hong Kong today, his friends and family told reporters. Jia's wife, Shen Liang, told Hong Kong's Apple Daily that she spoke to Jia on his mobile phone around 8 p.m., when he said was waiting to board his flight, but that when she phoned him roughly 15 minutes later, his phone appeared to be turned off. A friend who was supposed to meet Jia at Hong Kong International Airport at around 11:30 that night told Apple Daily the journalist never arrived. Friends of Jia's wrote on Twitter that they feared he might be in police custody.

The public security bureau of the Beijing Capital International Airport, where Jia said he was when he last spoke to his wife, on Thursday told CPJ that they had no information about him.

"We are deeply concerned by Chinese journalist Jia Jia's disappearance," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "If he is in police custody, officials must disclose where they are holding him and why. If anyone else knows where he is, they should step forward and clarify this worrisome mystery."

Shortly before his disappearance, Jia had told friends that he believed the police were looking for him in relation to an open letter published on the news website Wujie News (Watching News) on March 4 calling for President Xi Jinping's resignation, Wen Yunchao, a New York-based blogger and a friend of Jia, told CPJ. Jia also said that the police had gone to the homes of several of his relatives, asking them about Jia's involvement in the publication of the letter. Beginning March 12, Wen wrote on Twitter several times that police had questioned his parents and his wife's parents in relation to the letter as well.

The open letter, signed by "loyal Communist Party members," criticized Xi for abandoning collective leadership and concentrating power in his own hands, as well as for what it called his failed economic and foreign policies, The Washington Post reported. The letter disappeared soon after it was published. Before it appeared on Wujie, the letter was first published on the overseas Chinese-language website Canyu, which features news and commentary on human rights issues in China.

Jia's lawyer, Yan Xin, told CPJ that Jia had told him that after he saw the letter appear on Wujie's website, he informed Ouyang Hongliang, Wujie's chief executive and a former colleague of Jia's, of the letter.

Wujie is jointly owned by the private companies SEEC Media Group and Alibaba, and the government of Xinjiang, in northwestern China. It is highly unusual for such critical material to appear on a partially government-owned news website.

Since assuming power in 2012, Xi has taken severe measures to silence political dissent and the limited freedom offered by social media in China. Direct criticism of the president has proved to be particularly hazardous. In November 2015, for example, political cartoonist Jiang Yefei was repatriated from Thailand and arrested by Chinese police. Jiang's wife told CPJ last year that she believes Jiang was targeted because of his cartoons ridiculing Xi. In October 2015, Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong publisher and bookseller with Swedish citizenship who has published and sold books that could be read as unflattering to Communist Party elites, disappeared from his Thailand beach house, only to reappear on Chinese state television in January confessing to an alleged hit-and-run accident, according to press reports. In the months between October and January, four of Gui Minhai's employees, also disappeared, at least one of them from Hong Kong, only to reappear weeks later in mainland China, according to newspaper accounts.

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