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Cyber-dissident Huang Qi abducted, retired university professor arrested; foreign journalists harassed

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is worried about the kidnapping of leading cyber-dissident Huang Qi, the founder of the human rights website 64Tianwang ( http://www.64tianwang.com ). He and two other activists were forced to get into a car by three unidentified men at around 7 p.m. (local time) on 10 June 2008 in Chengdu, the capital of the earthquake-hit province of Sichuan.

The Chengdu police claim they know nothing about their whereabouts but their abduction bears all the hallmarks of an operation by the Bureau of Public Security and could be linked to the arrest the previous day of Zheng Hongling, a retired university professor who posted a series of three articles about the earthquake on a US-based website.

"The abduction of Huang and his two companions one month to the day after the Sichuan earthquake shows that the crackdown on press freedom activists continues," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge the authorities to conduct an investigation to find out where they are, and to free them at once."

The press freedom organisation added: "We also voice our support for Zheng, who was just using her right to free expression when she wrote three articles criticising the way the authorities in Mianyang, the city where she lives, handled earthquake relief operations. We call for her immediate release as well."

The editor of the 64Tianwang website, Zhang Guo Ting, said he thought the abduction was linked to the latest article posted by Huang, which was about Zheng's arrest on a charge of "divulging information abroad." Aged 53 and a former professor at the University of Technology of the Southwest, Zheng and her husband fled from the earthquake damage in Mianyang on 12 May and went to stay with a friend, Huang Shaopu, in Chengdu.

From there, Zheng wrote her three articles, entitled "Tales of my adventures during the earthquake," for Observe China, a Chinese website hosted in the United States. She was charged on 9 June with publishing articles criticising the authorities for not letting NGOs do their job. She is being held in Mianyang prison. Huang Shaopu was questioned by the police because the articles were sent from his computer, but he said he did not know they were being published.

Every since the earthquake, 44-year-old Huang Qi had been posting articles on 64Tianwang criticising the way the relief was being organised. He wrote on 20 May: "The reports we are seeing are biased. In reality, it is very difficult for NGOs to deliver food aid. They are obliged to go through government channels. The government is using its propaganda to portray itself as a saviour to little avail. Few citizens trust the government because of the corruption scandals that already occurred during similar disasters in the past."

Huang Qi spent five years in Nanchong high security prison after being arrested on 3 June 2000, the eve of the 11th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. He was charged with subversion under articles 103 and 105 of the criminal code for posting articles about the massacre by exiled dissidents on his website, which he originally created as a bulletin board for messages about missing persons.

Reporters Without Borders awarded him its Cyber-Freedom Prize in 2004 for his online defence of free expression and human rights.

Meanwhile on 12 June police expelled around 10 foreign journalists from a neighbourhood of Dujiangyan, one of the cities that was badly hit by the earthquake, Agence France-Presse reported. Two of them worked for the French agency. They were trying to do a story about a school that collapsed in the quake. Police manhandled some of the journalists and damaged their equipment.

"We are seeing an all-out hunt for press representatives, with police and soldiers blocking access roads and searching all vehicles," said Tom Van de Weghe, the China correspondent of Belgian radio and TV broadcaster VRT, who was arrested in Dujiangyan and Juyan. On 11 June, the Sichuan authorities had nonetheless renewed press accreditation for journalists wanting to visit quake-hit areas.

For further information on the past persecution of Huang Qi, see:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/79346
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/61779

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