Activist Held in China's Guangdong For Printing T-Shirts Bearing Guo Wengui Quote

2017-05-31
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Lin Shengliang in an undated photo.
Lin Shengliang in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Lin's friends

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained a rights activist for selling T-shirts carrying a quotation from exiled billionaire property tycoon Guo Wengui.

Dong Qi is currently being held in the Longgang Detention Center in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, after he began printing and selling T-shirts bearing the words "everything is just beginning."

Police have also summoned his customers for questioning, while Dong is under investigation for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," his lawyer Wen Yu told RFA on Wednesday.

"It's not often that somebody gets criminally detained for printing T-shirts," Wen said following a meeting with Dong at the detention center. "He has never been detained before, he told me, but he said he thought maybe he would get detained for this, and was mentally prepared for it."

Wen said his application for bail had been denied.

"They said that Dong Qi's case had already been downgraded from subversion to picking quarrels and stirring up trouble after they realized it was less serious," he said.

But he said the charges didn't stand up.

"On what basis can they detain him just for printing T-shirts?" Wen said. "It just doesn't make sense, so we will continue to apply for his release on bail."

Dong's wife Xiao Liang said the family is totally dependent on his income to survive, and that he had started the T-shirt printing business as a way of making some extra money.

"Dong Qi's parents are both farmers, and as his wife, I take care of our kid, who is only three," Liang said. "He is the main breadwinner."

"He started printing these T-shirts because he thought they'd be very popular, so he had a batch made [to sell] to supplement our family income," she said.

"He never thought that it would bring down this much trouble on our heads, or have such serious consequences," Liang said.

Related cases

Hebei-based Niu Lingchai said Dong isn't the first person to be detained for printing slogans on T-shirts, however.

Niu said she was held for questioning after ordering a batch of T-shirts and selling them on to around 100 customers, who were subsequently called by police in their hometowns and warned not to wear the garments.

"The police searched my home and took away all of my invoices, and I think they probably used them to find my customers' contact details, and then to get in touch with a lot of people by phone to warn them off," she said.

And Kwon Pyong, an ethnic Korean from the northeastern province of Jilin, stood trial on Feb. 15 for subversion after he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with satirical nicknames for President Xi Jinping, including "Xitler."

Neither is Dong the first to be detained for apparently supporting Guo.

Shenzhen activist Lin Shengliang was placed under administrative detention by Shenzhen police after showing public support for the billionaire, his friends told RFA.

"Lin Shengliang has been placed under administrative detention," a friend surnamed Yan said on Sunday. "They wouldn't tell me what the charges were ... it was to do with his support for Guo Wengui."

"He contacted me when the state security police went to detain him, and left an emergency number with me to call in case he was detained," she said.

Police in China may hand down administrative jail sentences of up to 15 days without trial to perceived "troublemakers," but sometimes such sentences are changed to criminal detention and the detainee remains in custody pending a longer investigation.

'Red notice'

China last month issued an Interpol "red notice" for Guo's arrest, in a move critics say is aimed at preventing him from revealing embarrassing details linking the country's leaders to a corruption case.

Guo, who is also known as Miles Kwok, is named as a suspect by the notice, which requests that the police forces of member states "locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition."

Media reports said Guo is suspected of paying 60 million yuan (U.S. $8.72 million) in bribes to disgraced former state security vice-minister Ma Jian, with whom he has been linked.

But Guo, who has lived overseas for the past two years, said the move is linked to fears that he will act as a whistle-blower on corruption among the highest echelons of China's leadership.

Reported by Ding Wenqi for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Dai Weisen for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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