HONG KONG—A rights activist who tried to act as advocate for a woman who claimed local officials had raped and murdered her daughter was detained in the Chinese capital this week.
Blogger Wu Gan, known online by his nickname "The Butcher," said he was rounded up by officials from his home province of Fujian, in China's southeast, after a stay in Beijing in which he visited other activists and petitioners.
"I'm going back on the earliest flight to Fujian in the morning," Wu said in a phone interview while accompanied by police.
"There were no formalities or paperwork. It seems that they've stepped things up a bit, in terms of putting me under pressure."
He said local police department officials had accompanied him, both from the provincial capital, Fuzhou, and from the port city of Xiamen, where three other bloggers have been jailed for "defamation" over claims that a 25-year-old woman, Yan Xiaoling, was gang-raped and murdered by officials in the city.
"I'm going to stay optimistic, because you have to stay positive when you do things like this. You can't allow yourself to feel terrified," Wu said.
An employee who answered the phone at Wu's local Taipingzhuang police station declined to give details of Wu's whereabouts, saying he was unfamiliar with the situation.
"Police from anywhere in China can arrest people in Beijing," he said. "That doesn't mean that it's police from our district."
An official who answered the phone at the Beijing municipal police department said that if Wu had been detained by any police department, his case would be dealt with according to law.
"In the case of an arrest or detention, the police department has to issue a formal letter advising the authorities in his hometown, and send this to his family," the official said.
Beijing-based netizen Liu Dejun said he had shared a meal with Wu the day before his detention at the house of another activist.
"We went to [activist] Zhao Lianhai's house [Tuesday morning] together," Liu said, referring to a parent-turned-activist whose child became ill after drinking milk tainted with melamine, one of hundreds sickened in a scandal that rocked the country in 2008.
Authorities have jailed a number of company executives linked to the melamine cases, but have warned lawyers not to represent parents in compensation claims, and still keep parent campaigners under tight surveillance.
Liu said Wu had been present at a dinner with more than 20 online activists and supporters, including blogger Beifeng and rights activists Xu Zhiyong and Liu Shasha.
"I think [Wu was detained] because he went to visit [detained artist] Wu Yuren's wife and to visit Zhao Lianhai's home," he said.
"I think the authorities in Beijing felt that this would cause them some trouble, so they wanted to send him back home again," he added.
Beijing-based netizen and activist Xia Yeliang said Beijing is getting less and less welcoming, punning on the official 2008 Olympics slogan, "Beijing Welcomes You."
"Is Beijing a jail, or is it a hell for anyone pursuing equality and liberty?" Xia said.
Netizen A'Er said that authorities appear to be showing Wu their "true power."
"This is rule by people, not the rule of law," he said. "This would never happen under a society governed by law. Under the system of rule by persons, they are showing him what's what."
"'If you get too uppity, we'll put you in your place.' That's what this means," he added.
Support for others
Wu had helped publicize the cases of fellow bloggers You Jingyou, Wu Huaying, and Fan Yanqiong who were sentenced in mid-April to between one and two years in prison for "criminal defamation" of police and government officials.
The three had posted interviews on their blogs with Lin Xiuling, the dead girl's mother, in which she made her claims explicit and accused local authorities of trying to cover up a crime.
Officials said Yan Xiaoling had suffered a hemorrhage caused by an ectopic pregnancy, and began detaining anyone blogging or tweeting about the case.
Wu was also instrumental in the online campaign in support of Hubei waitress Deng Yujiao, who was held on murder charges and placed in a psychiatric hospital after fatally stabbing a government official she said tried to sexually assault her.
In a case that was widely followed on social media and online forums, Deng was eventually convicted of causing bodily harm, but was then set free.
China is home to 420 million Web users and about 50 million bloggers, all of whom are frequently subjected to censorship by their Internet service providers.
Official figures show that Chinese spend more time online than netizens in any other country with the exception of France and South Korea, and are more likely to contribute to blogs, forums, chatrooms, and other social media.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and in Cantonese by Bi Zimo. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.