China detains publisher of human rights news website

New York, November 29, 2016–Chinese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Huang Qi, publisher of the human rights news website 64 Tianwang, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police in China’s southwest Sichuan Province detained Huang last night, amid an intensified crackdown on online journalists and bloggers who report on protests and human rights abuses.

Police detained Huang outside his apartment complex in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, according to media reports. More than 10 police officers then ransacked Huang’s home and detained his mother, Pu Wenqing, who was in his apartment at the time of the search. Police later took Pu to her home in the nearby city of Neijiang. When Pu arrived, she found her residence had already been searched, according to media reports.

Pu Fei, a volunteer for 64 Tianwang, initially published news of Huang’s detention on Twitter, but that tweet was subsequently deleted, according to the advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign in China. Pu Fei has not been heard from since, according to the U.S.-government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia. CPJ’s phone calls to the Chengdu Public Security Bureau seeking more information about Huang’s detention and Pu Fei’s whereabouts went unanswered. Police have not announced any formal charges against Huang and have not confirmed that they have Pu Fei in custody.

“The arrest of Huang Qi signals a renewed effort to punish those who publish material the Chinese government does not wish to see made public,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said. “We call on Chinese authorities to release Huang immediately and to cease jailing online journalists for reporting the news.”

Huang founded 64 Tianwang in 1998 with Zeng Li, who was then his wife, as a missing-persons search service. The website gradually evolved to focus on covering issues not covered by China’s mainstream news media, such as protests, allegations of government corruption and abuse of power, police brutality, and the detention of writers and activists. On November 23 and 25, 64 Tianwang reported that police had arrested demonstrators protesting the death of a petitioner they said had been beaten by government supporters. Before his detention, Huang told Radio Free Asia that such reporting “could bring him trouble.”

Huang has been subjected to routine police harassment since he founded 64 Tianwang, which, according to Radio Free Asia, has been blocked in China since March 2003 and has frequently been attacked by hackers. In late October, police briefly detained him ahead of a gathering of the Chinese Communist Party Congress. Huang also served two prison sentences. He was jailed from 2000-2005 on charges of “subversion of state power” for articles posted on 64 Tianwang, and from 2008-2011 on charges of “illegally holding state secrets.” Pu Fei, who has also been frequently harassed by police, was detained for two weeks in 2008 after Huang was arrested.

The Chinese government has recently stepped up efforts to prosecute online journalists who cover human rights abuses and protests. This month, police detained Liu Feiyue, founder of the human rights news website Minsheng Guancha, accusing him of subversion of state power. In June, police detained Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, who covered protests on social media websites. In April, Wang Jing, a contributor to 64 Tianwang, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for “provoking trouble.”