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Concerns over abducted website founder's health and possible mistreatment

In this 18 September 2012 photo, veteran rights activist Huang Qi works on his laptop in his home in Chengdu in southwestern Sichuan province
In this 18 September 2012 photo, veteran rights activist Huang Qi works on his laptop in his home in Chengdu in southwestern Sichuan province

AP Photo/Gillian Wong

This statement was originally published on on 22 December 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears that Huang Qi, the founder of the 64 Tianwang news website, has been mistreated since his abduction-style arrest more than three weeks ago and calls for his immediate release.

Aged 53, Huang has not been seen since he was taken from his home in Chengdu, in the western province of Sichuan, during a raid on 28 November 2016 involving 15 police officers from Chengdu and the nearby cities of Mianyang and Neijing.

According to several sources, Huang's family was told last week that he is accused of "divulging state secrets abroad," a charge that is often used against the government's critics and can result in long prison sentences.

"One of the few major independent news websites in China, 64 Tianwang and its citizen-journalists are still being systematically hounded by the Chinese authorities 12 years after its founder, Huang Qi, was awarded RSF's Press Freedom Prize in the cyber-dissident category," RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said.

"Huang's abduction is part of an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders in China and fears are growing that the authorities may be mistreating and torturing him. We call for his immediate and unconditional release."

Huang is apparently being held on a criminal code violation at Mian Yang detention centre and will probably remain in detention for at least a year pending trial, the site's editor said. Police detained a contributor to the site, Pu Fei, on 28 November after a tweet about Huang's disappearance that was subsequently deleted. Pu was released on 4 December.

Huang's mother, Pu Wenqing, 83, was herself seen for the last time on 30 November, when she was taken to a hospital in Sichuan province. Her current location and circumstances are unknown.

Before his arrest, Huang signed a document saying he wanted a lawyer if arrested (a common practice among Chinese activists). However, the document is missing. As a result, no lawyer can take on his case because a family member must sign an authorisation and his mother cannot be located.

Huang's health is a source of great concern. He suffers from acute nephritis (a kidney condition) and needs daily treatment. According to China's criminal procedure law, if Huang is suspected of a crime, the Public Security Bureau can hold him for 37 days before deciding whether to arrest him formally or release him.

Last month, 64 Tianwang was awarded RSF's 2016 Press Freedom Prize in the media category.

China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index, while President Xi Jiping is on RSF's list of press freedom predators.

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