Prominent Rights Activist Huang Qi Detained in China's Sichuan

Huang is held in a local police station alongside three fellow activists after investigating a government land grab.

Sichuan rights activists Yang Xiuqiong (L) and Huang Qi (R) in photo taken before their detention, Feb. 18, 2016.

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have detained a prominent rights activist after he went to investigate claims of an illegal government land-grab in the province.

Veteran rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, was detained alongside three colleagues in Sichuan's Mianyang city on Thursday, fellow activist Li Zhaoxiu told RFA.

Huang, Dujiangyan-based activists Yan Tafeng and Yan Tabing, and Mianyang activist Yang Xiuqiong, who invited Huang to Mianyang in the first place, remained incommunicado on Friday, Li said.

"I have no news of Huang Qi," Li said. "He was taken away from Yang Xiuqiong's home at around 10.00 p.m. yesterday evening by four people."

"That morning, Huang had taken a Japanese journalist up to meet Wu Xianqiong, a victim of the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Dujiangyan," she said.

"In the afternoon, Huang Qi, Yang Tafeng and Yan Tabing went to Yang Xiuqiong's home in Mianyang, at Yang's invitation," Li said.

"There was an issue with a land grab and forced demolitions and evictions there, and they wanted Huang Qi to investigate it for them," she said.

Li said she had heard about the detention by phone from Yang, but that she had been unable to get through since Friday morning.

"She told me that the four of them ... were taken to the local police station yesterday evening, and they were still there this morning," Li said.

"But I after I spoke to her this morning, the phone was switched off."

Li said more than 20 police officers had arrived at Yang's home for the raid, but had no information about possible charges against the four.

An officer who answered the phone at the Chengjiao police station in Mianyang declined to comment on the detentions.

"I can't verify your identity over the phone," the officer said. "I only just got to work and I don't know what happened yesterday."

He declined to say whether the four activists were still at the Chengjiao police station on Friday afternoon local time.

A website for China's most vulnerable

Huang was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2011 after launching investigation into shoddy school construction blamed for thousands of deaths during a massive 2008 earthquake.

Huang, 51, was convicted of “illegally possessing state secrets” by the Wuhou District Court in Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.

Huang’s wife Zeng Li said at the time that the court handed down a severe three-year sentence because of what it described as his “tendency to relapse into criminal activities” following his release from jail in 2005.

Huang launched the Tianwang website in 1999, initially to provide assistance to China’s most vulnerable citizens, but soon became involved in more contemporary rights work, in particular giving a voice to people displaced by government land grabs and forced evictions.

He was arrested June 3, 2000, on charges of voicing grievances for victims of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and for sympathizing with members of the banned Falun Gong religious group.

After being sentenced on May 9, 2003 to a five-year jail term, Huang was released in 2005 after his pretrial detention period was counted towards the total.

Reported by Ka Pa and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.