'A Terribly Dark Day'

The wife of a jailed crusading Chinese journalist speaks about the family's plight.
2012-11-23
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A Chinese policeman prevents journalists from covering an event in Beijing, May 2, 2012.
AFP

Whistle-blowing Chinese journalist Qi Chonghuai, 46, from the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, was two weeks away from being released in June last year when the same court that convicted him in 2008 retried him on the same charges and sentenced him to eight more years
in jail, prompting condemnation from human rights groups.

Qi, who was well-known for his exposés of official corruption and social injustice was originally detained in 2007 after posting on several online forums information on the Tengzhou municipal government’s alleged misuse of tax money to build a glitzy new office building. He was convicted of
"extortion and blackmail" and served his sentence in Zaozhuang Prison in Tengzhou.

His wife, Jiao Xia, told RFA's Mandarin service of her fears for the couple's child as they both battle failing health:

"It was Aug. 15. I went to see him because we are getting a divorce. Qi Chonghuai had already asked me three times previously for a divorce. He felt that I was managing to raise two children on my own, and had never once mentioned divorcing him. I asked him what I had done wrong, that he wanted to divorce me. I didn't understand his way of thinking. After a while, I understood. He got his younger brother to talk me into getting a divorce. He did so by giving me the news that [Qi] wouldn't get out of jail alive.

My health is very poor, and it's hard for me to manage. I ask myself what will happen to the kids if I'm not here any more, who they'll depend on. I keep thinking if I could somehow get their father out of
jail...

Qi Chonghuai started working in the media in 1993. He comes from a very poor family, and had to work his way through college. I met him in 1994. One of his teachers introduced us. Back then, he was an editor and reporter at the Jining Markets News. We married in 1995 and moved to Jinan in 1996. He wrote quite a lot of negative stories; he was always going to Tengzhou for stories. There was a mine flooding accident over there, and a lot of people died. He published a report. Actually, the Tengzhou authorities had already warned him not to, and had offered him some money not to publish. He was working at the Shandong bureau of the China Safety at Work News. The Tengzhou authorities were summoned to Beijing to explain themselves. The paper kept refusing to publish the article, and I can't recall exactly where it was published in the end, but it was published. So that got right up the nose of the Tengzhou municipal Party secretary, although Qi Chonghuai didn't notice it at the time.

In March 2007 he went to Tengzhou again, to report on the plans for a swish new municipal office building. He took photos. Tengzhou isn't a very rich town. A lot of people go elsewhere to work in factories, and there are a lot of beggars and people down on their luck. Our home isn't far from Tengzhou, so we know exactly how things are there. Some of the farming communities spend time petitioning because they can't get enough to eat. So what was the Tengzhou municipal Party secretary doing building a luxurious new office block?

When Qi Chonghuai went there to check it out, he saw at once that it was five-star luxury, and that it had never been officially approved. So he exposed the office block affair, and stayed on after that to write a few more negative stories about the place. I think he touched a raw nerve.

After that, Tengzhou had its eye on him...He got into a fight with Tengzhou officials...because they detained a journalist from the Tengzhou Daily News...and because he told them that they shouldn't have detained him. He made them angry.

They started investigating him in...June. Someone from the Tengzhou municipal propaganda department came looking for Qi Chonghuai, saying they wanted to take him to dinner. On June 25 they detained him, in the evening. When [Qi] asked them why they were detaining him, on what basis, they said "for economic crimes." Qi Chonghuai said: "I live in Jinan, so why do you need to come all the way over here to deal with my economic crimes?" They said that they were from his registered hometown. But he replied: "My registered hometown is in Zoucheng, so why have you come here from Tengzhou?" They said: "You are from Tengzhou. Don't you worry about that. We can detain you, no problem."

I was afraid that this was a revenge attack and I said "Let's call the Jinan police," and they came over. They checked our documents, and the Tengzhou people said that Qi had "committed a crime in Tengzhou" and that they hoped the Jinan police would cooperate. The Jinan police didn't object, so they took my husband away.

They took him on the 25th. That was a terribly dark day. They broke down the door and took him away. Oh dear, I can't bear to think of it. As soon as I think about it I get frightened."

Reported by Zhang Min for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.