Nanjing dissident journalist Sun Lin dies after police raid on home

Fellow activists call for an independent probe into his death as the family are denied access to his remains.
By Gu Ting for RFA Mandarin
2023.11.21
Nanjing dissident journalist Sun Lin dies after police raid on home Nanjing journalist Sun Lin is shown in an undated photo.
Courtesy of Wei Quan Wang

Nanjing dissident journalist Sun Lin, who used the pen name Jie Mu, has died following a raid by state security police on his home last week, Radio Free Asia has learned.

"On Nov. 17, police reportedly entered his home, and neighbors later heard loud noises," the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders network said via its X account. "At 2:44 p.m. he was sent to hospital; dead at 5:45 [p.m.]."

"At the hospital, Sun Lin's family requested to see his body, but the state security police refused," the group said.

"Medical staff at the hospital said his clothes were torn and he had suffered head injuries, indicating he was beaten to death," it said.

Overseas-based dissident Sun Liyong, who isn't related to Sun Lin, said the suspected beating took place at around noon on Nov. 17.

"A group of state security officers from Nanjing's Xuanwu district broke into Sun Lin's home," he said. "Then the neighbors heard sounds of a struggle from inside."

He said police have since tried to claim they were defending themselves after being attacked by Sun.

"Sun Lin is nearly 70 years old, so how would he be able to beat up a group of young men?" he said. 

Open letter

A group of Sun's friends and fellow activists, including Huang Jinqiu, Wu Lihong, Zou Wei and Zan Aizong have signed an open letter calling on the Nanjing municipal government to conduct an independent investigation into Sun's death as soon as possible, the Chinese-language rights website Weiquanwang reported.

Sun's friend Fu Tao said he believes "from the information we have so far, it seems like his death wasn't normal."

Sun was sent to Jiangsu Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine at 2:44 p.m., and the hospital pronounced him dead at 5:45 p.m.," Weiquanwang said, adding that Sun had recently undergone a full medical checkup three days earlier, and had been in "normal" health.

A friend of Sun's who gave only the surname Lu told RFA Mandarin: "They [state security police] wanted to enter his home, but [Sun] refused them entry, so they forced their way in."

Lu said he believes police beat Sun to death to stop him from speaking out.

"If they want to control you, they will use any means," Lu said. "They often kill people and cut off all contact with the outside world to prevent any kind of public backlash."

Sun’s friend and fellow activist Zou Wei held up a blank sheet of A4 paper to commemorate his death in front of the Memorial to the Fallen Soldiers of the National Revolutionary Army on Xixi Road in Hangzhou on Monday.

Weiquanwang said Sun's remains are currently in the hands of the Nanjing state security police, and have been removed from the hospital.

State security police have placed Sun's daughter Sun Yijia under tight restrictions, and have visited his ex-wife He Fang to warn her against "causing trouble," it said.

Repeated calls to He Fang and Sun Yijia rang unanswered on Tuesday.

Reporting on rights violations

In a profile on its website, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders describes Sun as "independent journalist who has reported on human rights violations and the corruption of Chinese officials."

He was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” on Dec. 25, 2018, and served a four-year jail term in connection with his social media posts, and for shouting "Down with the Communist Party" at a party meeting in Nanjing.

He had also served an earlier four-year jail term in 2008 for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" along with his then wife He Fang, after he refused to stop reporting on forced evictions at a Nanjing factory.

"Born in Nanjing on Dec. 24, 1955, Sun Lin forged a reputation from the outset of his journalism career for exercising free speech that attracted the attention of authorities," the profile said.

In August 1998, he began working with a television station in Nanjing, which dismissed him for speaking too openly about “politically sensitive” subjects, prompting him to launch his own video channel in September of the same year, which the authorities later shut down, it said.

Sun had also been the editor of the Nanjing version of Business Times Today and edited the Metropolis newspaper which he founded in 2000. After authorities forced Metropolis to close, Sun started to report for Boxun.

"He continued to report on social justice issues despite growing pressure and harassment by officials, culminating in his prison sentence in 2008," it said.

New book

A friend of Sun's who asked to remain anonymous said that just before his death, the authorities had paid a call on a fellow activist in the central city of Wuhan who had just received a copy of a book written by Sun.

"Ten days ago, the Nanjing state security police and the Wuhan state security police went to pay a call on [Wuhan rights activist Xiao Yuqing]," the friend said. "Sun Lin had written a book, and sent a copy to [Xiao]."

"The day after it arrived, the police showed up – he hadn't even had time to open it up and take a look," the friend said. "They took the book away."

"Sun had been chatting with Xiao Yuqing the day before [Sun died]. [Xiao] had just gotten out of hospital, and was planning a trip to Nanjing," they said.

"I know some of the rights activists in Nanjing who were taken down to the local police station after receiving the news of Sun Lin's death on the group chat," the friend said.

"Why would they cover up the news of Sun Lin's death? It's not going to work," they said.

When contacted by RFA Mandarin, Xiao said he has been banned from talking to the media or posting online, and declined to give an interview.

Xiao isn't the only dissident to have been contacted and told to keep quiet.

A Hubei-based online activist who gave only the surname Mo said he had received a call from state security police warning him not to travel anywhere.

"They said they would come round within 10 minutes if I were to buy a rail ticket anywhere," Mo said. "Henan-based rights activist Fang Yan was told by the state security police not to go to Nanjing."

"It's getting harder and harder for us to exist," Mo said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.

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