Amid a nationwide crackdown on "false" online information, authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have cut off the Internet service of the brother of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng after he traveled to Shanghai to meet with other activists.
Chen Guangfu lost his Internet connection on Saturday and currently has no way of contacting his brother, currently a legal scholar in the United States, or his daughter, who is working in another city.
"I call [my Internet service provider] every day, and they give me all sorts of unreasonable excuses," Chen said in an interview on Tuesday. "I don't believe them."
Chen said he was consulting with a lawyer, and had plans to sue the company for cutting off his services.
"I don't owe them any money, so why have they cut off my Internet services?" he said, adding that the services had been shut down after he returned to his home county of Linyi from Shanghai.
On Aug. 20, Chen was forcibly returned to the family's home village after he traveled to Shanghai to thank fellow activists for their support and visited with petitioners in the city.
The cutting off of Chen's Internet services comes amid a broader crackdown on online "rumors," which activists say refers to any online information not approved by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"Since the end of August, state media in China has reported on the detention of hundreds of people, including online commentators and citizen journalists, who use [Twitter-like services] to disclose corruption and injustice," the overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
"Well-known bloggers, including some with hundreds of thousands of followers, have been taken into custody for “creating” or “spreading rumors” and for “defamation” based on their online activities," the group said.
China’s Supreme People’s Court and state prosecution service on Monday issued guidelines warning that "rumor-mongering" is a crime punishable under Chinese law.
Anyone posting information online deemed by the authorities to be "spreading rumors" or "defaming" another person could be punished for a serious offense if the post is subsequently viewed at least 5,000 times or re-posted at least 500 times.
Authors of such posts could be handed jail terms of up to three years under Article 246 (1) of China's Criminal Law.
But Chinese lawyers have warned that the authorities are misusing the law as they seek to press criminal charges against netizens detained for "spreading rumors online."
Many say that there is no clear definition on the statute books for what constitutes a rumor, while activists have said that the anti-rumor campaign is a carefully targeted attack on freedom of expression.
Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who exposed forced abortions under the country's one-child policy and defended the rights of ordinary people, has been living and studying law in New York since arriving in the U.S. in May 2012, after a diplomatic standoff between Washington and Beijing.
After 18 months of house arrest in Shandong's Dongshigu village, Chen Guangcheng outwitted his guards and made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where Chinese and American officials eventually struck a deal allowing him and his family to go to New York to study.
The blind activist has said that he and his family experienced illegal detention and brutal beatings while under house arrest and that Beijing had promised him it would dismiss officials responsible for the mistreatment.
But the family says officials in Shandong have continued to break the law and have stepped up persecution aimed at Chen Guangcheng's relatives.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.