Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have detained a prominent freelance journalist on suspicion of “fraud” and running an “illegal business,” RFA has learned.
Chen Jieren was taken away from his home in Hunan’s Shaoyang city on Thursday. Calls to his cell phone rang unanswered on Friday.
A fellow journalist who asked to remain anonymous told RFA that Chen is being investigated for fraud and running an illegal business.
“A number of journalists received verbal notification from their local propaganda department yesterday,” the journalist said. "They were told that Chen is being investigated by the Hunan police for fraud and running an illegal business.”
“Then the journalists were told that they weren't allowed to carry out interviews write articles or show any interest in the case,” he said. "They were also told that they weren't allowed to make any record of this verbal notification.”
"His colleagues told me that they also took away his family members,” the journalist said.
But police gave them no information for the reason behind their detention, he added.
However, a number of articles previously penned by Chen were deleted from the internet around the time of his detention.
The journalist said he is concerned about Chen’s fate.
"Neither the Cyberspace Administration nor the police want information about this to raise concerns in wider society," he said. "I don't think that's normal.”
Repeated calls to the Hunan provincial police department rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
Chen’s detention comes after he filed a complaint against Shaoyang municipal party secretary Deng Guangya on June 25, calling for him to be removed from office.
Chen's account on the WeChat social Media platform returned the following message on Friday: “This account has ceased operation owing to suspected violations of relevant laws and regulations.”
The statement said the account closure was linked to “complaints from other users.”
Cooking up excuses
Veteran Hubei journalist Zhu Xinxin said Chen was the latest in a long string of dissidents to be detained by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in recent months.
“The Chinese Communist Party has detained a number of dissidents on the basis of their speech … in a manner that doesn't stand the test of the law or of reason,” Zhu said.
“For that reason they have to cook up other excuses, or find something else they may have done wrong,” he said. “Chen Jieren’s case is another example.”
Zhu said that lodging a complaint against a government official ought not to be a criminal matter.
“It is a matter of personal opinion or personal point of view,” he said. “It is up to the officials to show their faces and submit to an investigation.”
A friend of Chen’s surnamed Qian said his detention could also be linked to an article he wrote criticizing the conduct of provincial party official Xie Jianhui.
“He wrote an article about the Hunan provincial standing committee secretary-general on July 2, and somebody had words with him on July 3,” he said. “And he was incommunicado by Wednesday.”
Since graduating from Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University Law School, Chen has worked for a number of top publications in China, including Southern Weekend, China Youth Daily, Beijing News and the People's Daily newspapers.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.