Chinese Journalist Held For Filming School Campaign

2013-04-25
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china-zhang-lin-anni.jpg
Dissident Zhang Lin (l) and his daughter Zhang Anni (r) in undated photos.
Photos courtesy of HRIC

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have refused to release a journalist who shot video of a campaign to allow the daughter of a local dissident to attend school, his relatives said on Thursday.

Sun Lin, a reporter for the overseas-based Chinese-language news site Boxun, was initially sentenced to 10 days' administrative detention after taking part in protests in support of dissident Zhang Lin and his 10-year-old daughter Zhang Anni.

Anni was taken by police from a school in the provincial capital Hefei in February and barred from returning, prompting a campaign by activists to get her back in the school.

Sun's wife Gao Xiaojun said the authorities had since declined to release her husband, however.

"They said he won't get out," Gao said in an interview on Thursday. "They will probably change his status to criminal detention on April 30."

She said Sun's lawyer had visited him in detention for two hours on Saturday.

"His reporting has been having an impact for many years now," Gao said. "So he is probably going to be suppressed by the authorities."

"I thought things were looking dangerous, so I hired him two lawyers ... in case one of them is subjected to [official] controls."

Sun's detention came after more than 30 supporters of veteran pro-democracy activist Zhang gathered in the provincial capital Hefei earlier this month to protest the Feb. 27 removal of the dissident's daughter Anni from the Hupo Elementary School in the city by police.

Anni has since been denied permission to return by the school's principal, and the family has now returned to their hometown of Bengbu, a smaller city in Anhui, and enrolled her in a local school there.

Criminal detention

Gao said the police had already set up a committee to transfer Sun's case to criminal detention and that things didn't look good for her husband.

"As soon as we got inside the detention center, they sent someone to meet us and show us around, including two state security police ... who were trailing around in front of us and behind us," she said.

"After the meeting with the lawyers, when I visited [Sun], they were still there, coming and going."

Online outcry

Anni's case sparked an outcry among Chinese netizens, with her story and photograph trending regularly on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo in recent weeks.

On April 8, activists from around the country converged on Hefei in a bid to escort Anni to school.

Some were set upon by unidentified men near the school gates, while others have volunteered to teach Anni and staged relay hunger strikes in support of the family.

'Blowing up' the campaign

One of the lawyers, Guangzhou rights attorney Sui Muqing, said Sun had been beaten by police while in detention.

"They beat him up after they detained him, and they didn't specify under what charges he was being held," Sui said. "All he got was a so-called verbal communication that he was being held under administrative detention."

"They never sent out a notice of detention to his family, so the way the police handled this case was clearly illegal," he said.

Sui said police had accused Sun of "blowing up" the campaign in support of Zhang Lin and Anni.

"They asked him why he took part in blowing up the Anni affair, saying he was suspected of transmission of information, and threatening him by saying it depended on his attitude."

"They said his [video reports] had created a bad impression overseas, but Sun Lin refused to sign the form when they detained him," Sui added.

Zhang home under surveillance

Back in Bengbu, Zhang Lin, 50, said last week that his home had been under tight police surveillance since the detentions of his fellow activists.

China's nationwide "stability maintenance" system, which now costs more than the People's Liberation Army, tracks the movements and activities of anyone engaged in political or rights activism across the country.

Under this system, activists and outspoken intellectuals are routinely put under house arrest or other forms of surveillance at politically sensitive times.

Zhang, a veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Anhui, has served more than 13 years in prison on subversion charges for his political activities since the banning of the opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) in 1998.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.