Concern Over Australian Blogger

An Australian political writer who blogs in Chinese has gone missing from a Guangzhou airport.
2011-03-29
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A screenshot of Yang Hengjun's Twitter page.
A screenshot of Yang Hengjun's Twitter page.
RFA

Australian officials have expressed concern over the fate of a top Chinese-language blogger and Australian national, who hasn't been seen since he told a friend he was being followed by three men in a Chinese airport.

Sydney-based Yang Hengjun called a colleague from Guangzhou's Baiyun airport on Sunday, saying that he was being followed, sparking fears he may have been detained by national security police.

One of the most influential political bloggers writing in the Chinese language, Yang's posts reached millions of readers inside mainland China, where information is strictly controlled by a system of filters, blocks, and human censorship known as the Great Firewall, or GFW.

The Australian Foreign Affairs Department said on Monday it was "concerned" about reports of Yang's disappearance.

"The Australian consul-general in Guangzhou is urgently seeking to confirm the man's whereabouts and well-being and provide him with consular assistance if needed," a spokesman said.

However, an official who answered the phone at the Australian consulate in Guangzhou declined to comment on Yang's case.

Courage required

Formerly employed by China's foreign ministry, Yang has published a spy novel called Fatal Weakness, depicting corruption and espionage in contemporary China.

Yang has said that three publishing companies withdrew their initial offers to publish it after coming under official pressure.

Repeated calls to Yang's Sydney-based thesis supervisor Feng Chongyi went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

One Australia-based Chinese activist declined to comment, saying Yang was "too sensitive" a topic.

Yang's disappearance has sparked fears that the blogger may be the latest casualty of a nationwide clampdown on political expression in the wake of anonymous calls for a "Jasmine revolution" inspired by recent uprisings in the Middle East.

Writing in a blog post two years ago, Yang said of his work: "All I have right now is just a little bit of courage."

"In a country without freedom of speech and where speech can result in criminal charges, authentic writing requires a little bit of courage," he said.

Fresh wave of detentions

China's ruling Communist Party has launched a fresh wave of detentions and subversion trials in recent weeks.

Sichuan authorities recently detained activist and writer Ran Yunfei on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" and handed a 10-year jail term to writer Liu Xianbin on the same charges.

Sichuan-based political activists Ding Mao and Chen Wei have also been formally detained on subversion charges.

"They gave it to me this morning," Chen's wife said, referring to the formal notification of his detention. "He is being held in the Suining Detention Center."

"It's hard to say how I feel," she said. "I am thinking about hiring a lawyer."

Ding's wife, surnamed Feng, confirmed the charges against her husband, who is based in Sichuan's Mianyang city.

"They have already approved his detention," Feng said. "The charges are incitement to subversion."

"I wanted to ask them the reason for the charges, but they wouldn't tell me. They just said they were in the process of gathering evidence," she added.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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