Relatives of DW columnist Chang Ping have been released from custody. Chang has reported as much to DW. Several family members had been arrested in connection with a critical open letter.
"I have very mixed emotions," Chang Ping told Deutsche Welle. Of course he is relieved that family members are once again free, "On the other hand none of this should have happened."
The arrests have greatly damaged relations between he and his family, as well as the family as a whole. Chang Ping works for Deutsche Welle's Chinese editorial department. His relatives were arrested last Sunday.
The official reason for the arrests: On Monday, authorities from the Sichuan Province announced that the exiled journalist's father and two younger brothers had set off a forest fire during a ceremony honoring their ancestors. Many observers, however, suspected a different motive: the arrests were an attempt to muzzle Chang. "I cannot say anything about the arson charges because I cannot investigate them," said Chang Ping. Nevertheless, he supposes that authorities intended to use his family as a way to exert pressure on him. Over the last several days, Chang has repeatedly been asked to recant several of his articles.
The trigger: A critical open letter to Xi Jinping
In mid-March Chang wrote a critical column reporting on arrests related to an open letter addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The open letter had been published on a Chinese website in early March. In it, the authors accused the Chinese president of serious political mistakes and called for his resignation. Shortly after the letter went public, several employees at the website disappeared. Furthermore, the Chinese journalist Jia Jia was also held under temporary arrest in mid-March. Authorities suspected that he was one of the letter's authors.
DW columnist Chang Ping criticized the state's actions against Jia Jia in a Deutsche Welle article. Chang explained to DW that Chinese authorities were trying to pressure him into recanting the critical article by arresting several of his relatives. Chang went on to say that he was not one of the authors of the open letter and that there were absolutely no connections between himself and the letter.
Other exiled Chinese affected
Last week, Chinese dissident Wen Yunchao, who lives in New York, said that three of his relatives had been arrested as well. Meanwhile all three have been released. Like Chang, Wen also denies having anything to do with the letter. The recent arrests are just a small part of a wave of repression designed to silence critics and activists. The number of arrests against lawyers, journalists and dissidents in the People's Republic has been on the rise since Xi took power in the spring of 2013.