Yao Wentian, a Hong Kong publisher and honorary member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, was placed under residential surveillance in Shenzhen, in China's southern Guangdong province, by state public security officers on October 27, 2013, on "suspicion of smuggling ordinary goods" before he was detained on November 2. Yao's son, Edmond Yao, said his father had been preparing to publish a book titled Chinese Godfather Xi Jinping by the exiled U.S.-based Chinese author Yu Jie. A previous book by Yu that Yao published, which criticized former Premier Wen Jiabao, is banned in China.
Yao was accused of falsely labeling and smuggling industrial chemicals. His family said he was delivering industrial paint to a friend in Shenzhen. At his trial, prosecutors said the cost of the industrial chemicals Yao was accused of smuggling from Hong Kong amounted to more than 1 million yuan (US$163,000), according to reports.
On May 7, 2014, during a closed-door trial at the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court, Yao was sentenced to the maximum 10 years in prison. According to family members, he was being held in Dongwan prison in Guangdong province as of late 2017. Yao, who is elderly, is in poor health, the family says, because he is forced to do hard labor and is not receiving medical treatment. On May 11, 2017, 17 pro-democratic lawmakers and activists sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping urging medical parole for Yao, according to Hong Kong Free Press, writing that Yao has suffered five heart attacks in prison.
Yao started his publishing business, Morning Bell Press, in Hong Kong in the 1990s. The small business has published many books by Chinese dissident writers.
CPJ’s call to the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau in late 2018 seeking new information on the case went unanswered.