China Frees Documentary Filmmaker

2006-07-11
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"Hao Wu is Free" logo carried on the Global Voices Web site. Image: Global Voices Online

HONG KONG—The Chinese authorities have released independent filmmaker and blogger Wu Hao after holding him at an undisclosed location since February, his sister and colleagues said.

A permanent resident of the United States who lived there from1992-2004, Wu was detained by the Beijing division of China’s State Security Bureau on the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006.

His Shanghai-based sister Nina Wu confirmed his release to RFA's Mandarin service.

"He has been released. But I don't really know the details because I'm not in Beijing right now...He came out Tuesday afternoon," she told reporter Lin Di.

But she was reluctant to say more. "As soon as I get any more details I'll post them to my blog...I need to take some time to discuss this properly with the rest of the family," she said.

The news of Wu's release came on Nina Wu's blog, which she has used as a focal point for a campaign of international support for her younger brother, who returned to China to pursue his dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker.

News released by blog

"Just got a call at home and been informed that Wu Hao is out," said the brief posting dated July 11, 2006.

"Thank you everyone for your concern, but he needs some silence for now. If there is any new information it will be posted on this blog," she wrote.

On the afternoon he was detained, Wu had met in Beijing with the congregation of a Christian church not recognized by the Chinese government, as part of the filming of his next documentary.

China's Communist regime tolerates strictly controlled and officially recognized Christian churches, but it cracks down harshly on any unofficial religious movements with a strong popular following, fearing that they might grow powerful enough to overthrow it.

China has seen an upsurge in the number of people turning to religion in the last decade, as sweeping social changes and rampant official corruption leave many who formerly benefited from the cradle-to-grave socialist welfare system looking for meaning and emotional stability.

Wu also worked part-time for the Harvard-backed Global Voices Online Weblog, selecting blog entries of interest from the Northeast Asian region for daily summaries.

Detention likely not for blogging

But Global Voices co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon said his detention was probably not linked to his editorial work on that site.

"We don't know why he was arrested, but we think it probably isn't related to the work he did for us," she told RFA. "We tried our best. We all felt that what we did wasn't enough."

MacKinnon wrote an article appealing on behalf of Wu in the Washington Post , which coincided with last month's official visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao to the United States.

"Of course we're very happy that he's been released. I'm not sure about the details. I just know he's at home with his father and a friend and he's resting. He must be very tired."

She said Global Voices had been unable to find out Wu's whereabouts during his detention. "He was held somewhere in Beijing because he lived in Beijing. But we don't know exactly where he was being held," MacKinnon added.

Support for Wu was strong across the blogosphere, with hundreds of fellow bloggers posting on Nina and Hao’s story, as well as putting up Free Hao Wu tags to publicize his case.

Secret detention

Nina Wu's blog served as the centerpoint in the campaign to have Hao released, recounting the hostility she encountered during repeated and unsuccesful attempts to gain any information on her brother’s whereabouts.

The campaign reached a low point in late May, when Nina, frustrated, and fearing how the news would affect her parents’ health, wrote that her brother had been denied access to a lawyer.

Paris-based press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voiced “immense relief” at the news of Wu's release.

“Let us not forget, however, that Hao was kidnapped by the Chinese security services, which violated his most basic rights by claiming that his case was a matter of national security,” RSF said in a statement on its Web site.

“At the same time, 50 other people are currently in prison in China for writing about ‘subversive’ subjects online,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “China is by far the world’s biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents. We would also like to pay tribute to the courage of this blogger’s sister, who battled relentlessly for his release.”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Lin Di. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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