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Arrests over a letter of criticism

Philipp Bilsky (with dpa) / ccMarch 28, 2016

A number of people have been arrested in China in connection with a critical open letter that calls on President Xi Jinping to step down. Among them are relatives of a DW journalist.

Symbolbild Chinesische Polizisten
Image: AFP/Getty Images/W. Zhao

The Chinese journalist Chang Ping told DW that three of his siblings, two brothers and a sister, had been "abducted" by Chinese officials. Chang has lived in Germany for many years and works as a columnist for, among others, DW's Chinese service. Chang had earlier written a critical column about arrests carried out in connection with an open letter directed at the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

This letter was published on a Chinese website at the beginning of March. In it, the authors accused the Chinese president of serious political mistakes and called on him to step down. Shortly after the letter was published, several people working for the website disappeared. Then, in mid-March, the Chinese journalist Jia Jia was also briefly arrested. The Chinese authorities suspected him of being one of the authors of the letter.

Chinesischer Journalist Chang Ping
Relatives of Zhang Ping were detained, he told DWImage: imago/epd

Criticism of action taken against Chinese journalists

DW columnist Chang Ping had criticized the action taken against Jia Jia in a report for DW. He explained to DW that with the arrest of his relatives the Chinese authorities were now trying to pressure him into retracting this critical column. He stated that he himself was not one of the authors of the open letter, and that he had no connection with it whatsoever.

The blogger Wen Yunchao, who is also a critic of the Chinese government, reported from New York on Saturday that his parents and his younger brother had been abducted in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. The police, he said, wanted to find out from them whether he was behind the anonymous letter. Like Chang Ping, Wen denies any connection with the open letter. The blogger has urged the US government via Twitter to intercede with Xi and to call for his family's release. The Chinese president is expected in Washington this week for a conference on nuclear security.

Jia Jia pictured riding a horse
Jia Jia was detained for several days in MarchImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M.Shangshan

Human rights organizations concerned

The international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as well as the human rights organization Amnesty International criticized the Chinese authorities' actions. " The authorities should call off the political hounding of those suspected to be behind the open letter," said William Nee of Amnesty. Nee went on to describe the persecution of family members of dissidents as "draconian and unlawful," and "a mockery of China's claims to respect the rule of law."