Chinese netizens have launched a signature campaign for the release of a Beijing-based Twitter user, who is being held under criminal detention after he posted a humorous tweet about the recently concluded ruling Chinese Communist Party Congress.
Netizen Zhai Xiaobin was detained on Nov. 7 for “spreading false terrorist information,” after he posted an update on the online microblogging service "predicting" that more than 2,000 delegates at the congress would die and that only seven would survive, only to later die as well.
The joke relied on the plot of a well-known series of horror films.
The overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said that Zhai was currently being held at the Miyun County Detention Center in a northern suburb of Beijing.
An employee who answered the phone at the detention center said he was unaware of Zhai's case.
"I don't know about this," he said. "You'll have to ask the departments that handle his case."
CHRD said that the public reaction to Zhai's detention, however, had prompted police to step up pressure on his wife.
"State security officials warned Zhai’s wife not to go online, and demanded that she hand over her cell phone and information about her online contacts," CHRD said in an e-mailed statement.
Fellow netizen Liu Yanping, who was among those who signed the Nov. 17 petition calling for Zhai's release, said she had been in contact with Zhai's wife, who had planned to hire a lawyer and later canceled a meeting with one, possibly under police pressure.
Liu said state security police had visited Zhai's wife to ask for the names of all those involved in organizing the petition and their method of contact.
But she said she was unafraid for her own safety. "We are not worried at all because going to see friends and showing concern for friends is entirely within the law," Liu said.
"We don't need to hide anything," she said.
Fujian-based blogger and rights activist You Jingyou, who started the campaign, said Zhai's detention was "absurd."
"As citizens, I think we will use every means at our disposal to watch out for [Zhai]," You said. "They think they can do whatever they like, just because they work for powerful agencies."
"They have no respect for the law, and for them to use this sort of terror tactics against normal, rational citizens, is truly terrible."
Controversial artist Ai Weiwei, independent economist He Qinglian and Beijing-based author Wang Lixiong were among those who signed the petition for Zhai's release.
Rights lawyer Ma Gangquan said the charges on which Zhai was being held had no basis in law. "How can this be considered terrorist information?" he said.
"Terrorist information is that which instills terror into people...but what Zhai Xiaobin posted was satire and criticism of the system."
China launched a nationwide security clampdown ahead of the 18th Party Congress and the once-in-a-decade leadership transition, sending rights activists to labor camps and forcing lawyers and dissidents to leave their homes or remain under house arrest.
Authorities across China began to release rights activists held in detention centers and hotels or under house arrest last week, though a number remained unaccounted for or under continuing restrictions.
According to CHRD, retired Nanjing university professor Sun Wenguang remained under house arrest this week, even after the end of the party congress.
"Sun Wenguang...has been held under house arrest for more than a half year, during which time he has been limited from leaving his home and prevented from receiving visitors," the group said.
It said Sun, a veteran pro-democracy activist, had been under "round-the-clock" guard by police since May 16, just before the anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led
"Sun was severely harassed in late 2011 in retaliation for running as an independent candidate in a local People’s Congress election," it said.
Reported by Xin Yu and Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.