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Activist: Chinese police 'took' relatives over letter criticizing Xi

A prominent Chinese activist based in New York says authorities in China have "taken away" his family. The reported arrests follow the publication of an open letter calling for President Xi Jinping's resignation.

On Saturday, Chinese blogger and free speech advocate Wen Yunchao said he had not heard from his parents or younger brother since police took them from their home in the southern province of Guangdong on Tuesday.

"There's nothing I can do but wait," the government critic told German news agency DPA.

According to human rights groups, Chinese authorities have rounded up at least 20 people over an open letter demanding that President Xi Jinping step down immediately. The anonymous document, signed "loyal Communist Party members," berated Xi for centralizing authority, mishandling the economy and creating "unprecedented problems." The letter was widely circulated after it appeared on the Chinese media website Wujie News earlier this month. It has now been deleted.

Wen, 45, has denied writing or distributing the letter, but says officials had "harassed" his family about his alleged involvement and pressured them to find out the letter's source.

"I've told them very clearly I'm not the author of the letter, I did not aid anyone in broadcasting the letter, and, third, that I did not post the letter on any website," Wen said.

Xi Jinping visits China Central Television CCTV

President Xi visits China Central Television during a tour of the nation's three leading news providers last month

String of arrests

The Chinese press is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and criticism of top leaders by the local media is extremely rare. Following the letter's publication, the editor-in-chief of the Wujie News website, Ouyang Hongliang, was taken in for questioning along with other staff members, associates told US-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia. Other media reports said up to 16 staff from the news organization were detained.

Earlier this month, the well-known Chinese journalist Jia Jia

went missing

while preparing to board a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. The writer had reportedly told friends that he thought something could happen to him after warning former colleagues about republishing the letter.

"The authorities should call off the political hounding of those suspected to be behind the open letter and release all those detained in connection with it," William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said.

"The persecution of family members of dissidents is a draconian and unlawful tactic that makes a mockery of China's claims to respect the rule of law," Nee added.

nm/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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