A Hong Kong publisher facing smuggling charges in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen after he edited a book highly critical of President Xi Jinping was threatened by someone in Beijing not to release the publication prior to his detention, according to book's author.
Yu Jie, the U.S.-based author of "Chinese Godfather Xi Jinping," said on Tuesday that Morning Bell Press editor Yao Wentian, 73, received the threat before he was detained in Shenzhen in late October while traveling from neighboring Hong Kong.
Yao had received a phone call "from Beijing" shortly before his detention, Yu told RFA.
"He got a call from Beijing saying that this book was extremely sensitive, and that it absolutely must not be published," said Yu, who is also the author of "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao," a scathing critique of China's former premier.
"If they insisted on publishing it, there would be a threat to his personal safety and that of his family," he said.
Stepping up pressure
Yu, who is fiercely critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said Yao's family members had been against his publishing the book after they heard this.
"He was forced to abandon it just as the final proofs were going off to the printing house," Yu said.
He said Yao's detention showed that Xi Jinping is taking a harder line on dissent than his predecessors.
"Xi Jinping is stepping up the pressure far more than [former president] Hu Jintao or [former premier] Wen Jiabao did," Yu said. "He is even less willing to accept this sort of criticism."
Yu said he hadn't given up trying to find a Hong Kong publisher for the book, however.
'Lured' to Shenzhen
Authorities in Shenzhen have moved Yao's case to the local courts and he would stand trial on smuggling charges, reports say.
Local press reports said earlier that he was "lured" to the city, which has an internal border with China, by Shenzhen police.
Hong Kong, which was supposed to retain its traditional freedoms for 50 years under the terms of the handover, is a popular destination for authors of censored Chinese books, where they find an eager market.
But journalists and political analysts say self-censorship to avoid angering Beijing is now beginning to permeate the media and publishing industry.
Yu told RFA last month that the authorities are trying to frame smuggling charges on Yao by accusing him of bringing "illegal" goods across the border, and "evading taxes."
"At the time ... he was editing two of my books, [including] 'China's Godfather Xi Jinping,'" Yu said.
Yao's son Yao Yongzhan, himself a veteran of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, wrote an open letter to President Xi last month, calling on him to release his father.
Yao Yongzhan said he saw the smuggling charges as a form of political retaliation for Yu's book.
But he said it also showed that Hong Kong was losing many of its former freedoms since the 1997 handover to Beijing.
"This affair has a lot to do with the climate in Hong Kong," Yao Yongzhan said, referring to a number of changes in the territory's formerly freewheeling media in recent months that are widely seen as linked to Beijing's growing influence beyond its own borders.
"All this is tied up with my father's case," he said.