Chinese police detain dissident who forwarded 'Bridge Man' content

Peng Lifa's banner protest calling on Xi Jinping to step down has been erased from Chinese social media platforms.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin
Chinese police detain dissident who forwarded 'Bridge Man' content Wu Jingsheng, a dissident who was targeted for posting information online about the “Bridge Man” protest, was detained and then released in the early morning hours of the following day.
Credit: Human Rights Protection Network Information Center

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have detained a dissident who openly supported the Oct. 13 "Bridge Man" anti-Xi Jinping banner protest ahead of the 20th party congress in Beijing, the rights website Weiquanwang reported.

"Dissident Wu Jingsheng has been arrested by Qujiang district police in his hometown of Quzhou city," the website said.

"Wu Jingsheng was called in to drink tea after he retweeted information about the heroic Sitong Bridge protest by Peng Lifa in WeChat groups and on Facebook," the website said, using a phrase referring to a summons from China's feared state security police.

"He was sent home in the early hours of the next day and posted the following on Facebook," it said. "He hasn't updated his Facebook page since."

In the Oct. 16 post, Wu repeated the slogans painted on two banners by Peng Lifa, who was detained after hanging them from the Sitong traffic flyover in Beijing's Haidian district, days before the ruling Chinese Communist Party convened its five-yearly party congress.

"I am posting Peng Lifa's slogans here," Wu wrote, in a reference to the banners, which read "Remove the traitor-dictator Xi Jinping!"

“Freedom, not lockdowns”

Video and photos of Peng's banners were quickly posted to social media, only to be deleted. A post linked from the account called for strikes and class boycotts to remove Xi.

"Food, not PCR tests. Freedom, not lockdowns. Reforms, not the Cultural Revolution. Elections not leaders," read the second, adding: "Dignity, not lies. Citizens, not slaves."

Wu said he was interrogated over his forwarding of social media posts about the protests on WeChat by district police chief Yang Fan, while his phone was scanned by police for photos and contacts.

"They also wanted the name of the circumvention software I used [to access Facebook]," he wrote. Like other overseas social media platforms, Facebook is blocked by China's Great Firewall of internet censorship, and users in mainland China need circumvention tools to access it.

"They asked me why I reposted those things," Wu wrote. "I told them I greatly admired Peng Lifa's righteous deeds."

Wu, who has been described in unconfirmed social media posts as a former university lecturer who lost his job for his pro-democracy views and started driving a pedicab to make a living, said he had refused to hand over access to his Facebook account when Yang asked him, citing his right to privacy.

“At risk of torture”

Han Yutao, a Chinese student studying in the U.S. whose family was threatened by local police after he made a video supporting the "Bridge Man" protest, said Wu is likely now at risk of state-backed violence and trumped-up charges.

"Wu Jingsheng is now incommunicado, which means he could be at risk of torture and ill-treatment, as well as fabricated charges," Han told RFA.

He said he could understand why Wu took the risk of showing public interest in the "Bridge Man" incident.

"It's pretty unbearable for anyone with a conscience to live in today's China," Han told RFA, citing the mass incarceration of millions of Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in camps, the discovery of a woman held in chains in the eastern province of Jiangsu, and the privations suffered by many under Xi Jinping's zero-COVID policy.

Han Yutao, a Chinese student studying in the U.S. whose family was threatened by local police after he made a video supporting the "Bridge Man" protest, said Wu Jingsheng is likely at risk of state-backed violence and trumped-up charges.

"Peng Lifa's righteous deeds can be said to have encouraged a lot of people,” Han said. “His heroic act was true selflessness. He gave up the life he had to spark hope for a lot of Chinese people."

Han said the treatment meted out to Wu was unlikely to be more lenient than the authorities' treatment of Peng.

"He could be facing the same kind of [situation] as Peng Lifa," Han said. "Wu ... could be tortured and subjected to various kinds of psychological pressure, and his family won't escape political scrutiny."

Police in Beijing contacted Han's family after he expressed support online for Peng, contacting his brother and parents and putting pressure on them to persuade him not to be a "traitor," and to distance themselves from him. 

"My family ... will now definitely never pass a political evaluation, and won't be able to hold any government job in China," Han said.

"This could also have a huge impact on their daily lives, if [COVID-19 tracking] codes get linked to social credit in future," he said, in a reference to the use of the Health Code COVID-19 app to hinder the movements of protesters and government critics when the authorities wish to silence them.

Xing Jian, a dissident from the central province of Henan now based in New Zealand, said Wu did nothing wrong by reposting the "Bridge Man" content.

"Wu Jingsheng's support of the Sitong Bridge protester Peng Lifa in online communities is protected by law," Xing told RFA. "The arrest of Wu Jingsheng is all about currying favor now that Xi Jinping was given a new term in office by the 20th party congress."

"Mainland China has entered an era of imperial rule, and the power of the ruler trumps everything else," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie


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