Police arrested Huang Qi, publisher of the human rights news website 64 Tianwang, in November 2016. He is serving a 12-year sentence on accusations of "deliberately leaking state secrets," and "illegally providing state secrets to foreign countries."
Police detained Huang outside his apartment complex in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, on November 28, 2016, according to media reports. More than 10 officers searched Huang’s home and detained his mother, Pu Wenqing, who was in his apartment at the time. Police took Pu to her home in the nearby city of Neijiang, where she found her residence had also been searched, according to media reports.
On December 16, 2016, police formally arrested Huang for “leaking state secrets to foreign entities.” On July 16, 2017, the Mianyang Public Security Bureau submitted its charging request to the Mianyang City Procuratorate, which on August 30, 2017, sent the case back to police to investigate further, according to Radio Free Asia and Huang’s lawyer, Sui Muqing. Sui and Li Jinglin, another lawyer for Huang, were denied access to the case file and exhibits, Li said.
Huang founded 64 Tianwang in 1998 with his then wife Zeng Li, as a missing-persons service. The website started covering issues not reported on 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, 2016, 64 Tianwang reported on the arrests of demonstrators who were protesting the death of a petitioner allegedly beaten by government supporters. Huang told Radio Free Asia that such reporting "could bring him trouble."
Huang and his staff were targeted by police harassment since he founded 64 Tianwang. In October 2016, police briefly detained Huang ahead of a gathering of the Chinese Communist Party Congress. Huang was jailed from 2000 to 2005 on charges of "subversion of state power" for articles posted on 64 Tianwang, and from 2008 to 2011 on charges of "illegally holding state secrets."
A volunteer for the website, Pu Fei, was detained for two weeks in 2008 after Huang was arrested. In April 2016, Wang Jing, a reporter at 64 Tianwang, was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble." She was arrested on December 10, 2014, while photographing protesters near the Beijing headquarters of the state-run broadcasting agency China Central Television, according to news reports.
Yang Xiuqiong, a volunteer journalist for the website, was arrested on June 23, 2017, on the charge of “subversion of state power” for reporting on Huang Qi’s case, according to a news report.
Yet another journalist for the website, Li Zhaoxiu, was arrested while awaiting liver surgery on September 17, 2017, at a hospital in Chengdu, according to news reports.
The website has been blocked in China since March 2003 and is frequently targeted by hackers, according to Radio Free Asia.
Huang’s lawyer Li visited him on November 3, 2017, and told the Epoch Times that Huang had been beaten by other inmates and abused by prison officials. Li filed a complaint against the Mianyang Detention Center to the Mianyang People’s Procuratorate.
On May 24, 2018, the Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court held a pretrial conference on Huang’s case along with 64 Tianwang volunteers Yang Xiuqiong and Chen Tianmao. According to Radio Free Asia, the three refused to sign their names to interrogation records that imply confessing to “illegally providing state secrets overseas.” In September 2018, Radio Free Asia reported that Chen’s charge was changed to “intentionally leaking state secrets,” and Chen was released in October 2018. Yang was also released that month. Both of their releases were confirmed by Pu Fei.
According to meeting notes taken by Huang’s lawyer Liu Zengqing, who took over Huang’s case after Sui’s retaliatory disbarment in February 2018, Huang was interrogated 15 times starting on August 12, 2018. Liu did not know when the interrogations ended, nor was the time period indicated in the meeting notes. While being interrogated, Huang was not allowed to rest or use the toilet. A prosecutor named Du Peng hit him with a water bottle on his chest and injured him, according to copies of the notes provided to CPJ by Pu.
Since Huang’s arrest, authorities have disbarred two of his lawyers, Sui Muqing and Liu Zhengqing, and Huang dismissed another lawyer, Li Jinglin, out of concern for the lawyer’s safety, according to news reports and CPJ research.
On July 29, 2019, the Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Huang to 12 years in prison on charges of "deliberately leaking state secrets," and "illegally providing state secrets to foreign countries," according to a statement published on the court’s website.
As of September 2021, Huang was being held at Bazhong Prison in Sichuan province, according to 64 Tianwang volunteer Wang Jing, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
In late 2020, a 64 Tianwang volunteer, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from authorities, told CPJ that Huang’s mother Pu spoke with the journalist on September 17 through a video call. According to Pu, Huang was emotionally distressed and said his hands and feet were swollen, and that he had not received proper medical treatment in prison.
Pu was only allowed to speak with Huang in that video call and one other phone call since his arrest, 64 Tianwang tweeted in September 2021.
Wang Jing, who was previously imprisoned for four years and 10 months for her journalistic work, told CPJ that authorities kept delaying meeting arrangements for Pu and Huang, saying that the prison is currently updating its video calling system. Wang said she feared that Huang might die in prison.
In September 2021, CPJ called and emailed Bazhong Prison for comment, but no one answered.