Police in the southwestern province of Sichuan have raided the Tianwang rights website, detaining its founder, after it reported on the violent treatment of ordinary people who pursue complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Police in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu burst into the home of Tianwang founder Huang Qi late on Monday, searching it and detaining Huang, local activist Zhou Jun told RFA.
"Huang Qi, of the Tianwang website, was taken away from Jinxiu Gardens [residential compound] at around 7.00 p.m. yesterday evening," Zhou said.
She said police from Mianyang and Neijiang, areas hard-hit by the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, were also present at the raid.
Huang, 51, was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2011 after launching an investigation into shoddy school construction blamed for thousands of deaths during a massive 2008 earthquake.
"These cops who said they were from Mianyang told Huang's mother that there were also police there from Neijiang," she said. "Huang's mother also said ... that there were four or five cops in Huang Qi's home, including officers from Mianyang, Neijiang and the Nanzhan police station in Chengdu."
"They had a search warrant."
Mother under close surveillance
Huang's mother, Pu Wenqing, told RFA on Tuesday that she too is now under close surveillance by police.
"Some of them were taking photos, others were looking through his stuff," Pu said. "I told them they shouldn't have come bursting into a private home without getting in touch with me first, but they just said they had to search the place."
"So I called the mayor ... and told him that I'm an 83-year-old woman, and that the Mianyang police have forced their way into my home and searched it," Pu said.
"So they took my phone away, and then the Chengdu and the Neijiang police dragged me forcibly outside and put me in their vehicle," she said. "I was bleeding on my arms and elsewhere on my body after that."
Pu said she was taken to the Neijiang No. 1 People's Hospital, where her blood pressure was found to be high, then to a police station to make a statement.
"I got back to find ... their people everywhere," Pu said. "When I went out to buy groceries this morning, there were about six or seven people following me."
Huang's detention comes after Tianwang ran a Nov. 25 story about petitioners' attempts to visit the grave of fellow petitioner Yang Tianzhi, who died in police custody in August while being escorted home by "interceptors" from a petitioning trip to Beijing.
He told RFA at the time that he was expecting to "run into trouble" over the article.
Petitioner coverage draws official ire
Sichuan rights activist Li Zhaoxiu said Huang's supporters believe Tianwang's five stories about the violent treatment and detention of petitioners in Beijing on Monday may also have played a role.
Police and security guards detained hundreds of petitioners and beat up others after large crowds with complaints and grievances against their local governments gathered outside government buildings in Beijing, eyewitnesses told RFA.
"There was also a story about a placard being raised," Li said, referring to a banner protesting the death in police custody of Chen Shenqun, a Liaoning-based petitioner and former inmate of the notorious Masanjia labor camp earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Hubei-based petitioner Xiang Xianling, who was the first person to report Huang's detention, was incommunicado on Tuesday, activists said.
Huang launched the Tianwang website in 1999, initially to provide assistance to relatives of victims of the nationwide crackdown that followed the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
But he 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.
But he was convicted of “illegally possessing state secrets” by the Wuhou District Court in Chengdu in November 2011, in connection with his expose of shoddy school construction blamed for thousands of child deaths during the earthquake.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.