A Beijing-based filmmaker who exposed abuses of inmates at the Masanjia women's labor camp is being held in a detention center for "illegal publishing," rights activists and relatives said.
Du Bin, who is also a former New York Times photographer, has been held in the Fengtai district detention center in a southern suburb of Beijing since May 31 on suspicion of public order offenses linked to his recent publications, Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said on Tuesday.
"The reason probably has to do with Du Bin's work on labor camps, petitioners, and the Tiananmen massacre," Hu said.
"This year, his documentary on Masanjia and the book he published in Hong Kong titled The Tiananmen Massacre, have brought him a lot of trouble from the authorities."
"I think they want to get their revenge on him," Hu added.
Du's documentary, "Above the Ghosts' Heads: The Women of Masanjia Labour Camp," was banned in mainland China but posted online and screened in Taiwan.
Call for release
The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for Du's release.
"The Chinese authorities must give their reasons for arresting Du Bin and holding him incommunicado, and must end his illegal detention," the group said in a statement.
"The use of such harsh methods and the failure to provide solid grounds for his arrest suggest that this is a reprisal for his success in documenting the torture, humiliation, and inhuman and degrading treatment of women at Masanjia labor camp.”
Many of the labor camp's detainees are members of Falun Gong, a banned spiritual movement that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has been trying to crush for more than a decade, it added.
RSF said surveillance of Du had been intensified after the film was shown overseas, and that Du had continued to edit fresh interviews with former Masanjia inmates after its release.
He has also recently published a book on the 1989 military crackdown on the student-led democracy movement on Tiananmen Square.
Du's sister Du Jirong said she had been informed verbally that her brother was being criminally detained for "illegal publication" by Fengtai district police on Monday.
"The authorities are charging him with illegal publishing and suchlike of materials that are harmful to society," she said. "I can't work out where the harm lies, though."
"Personally, I think it's because of that film he made about the labor camp, but things aren't very clear right now," she added.
She said she hoped Du would get to see a lawyer soon.
Hu said he had been to Du's apartment and found two official documents, as well as evidence that the lock to his front door had been forced open.
"On the table, there were two official letters, which said that he was suspected of 'disturbing public order,'" he said. "His books and computer were nowhere to be seen."
Du's film contains explosive interviews with former inmates of the Masanjia re-education through labor facility outside the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, many of them women who were sent there for lodging persistent complaints against the government.
Women who blew the whistle on abuses and torture at the camp say have been targeted by police, who have tried to raid their homes and call them in for questioning following a recent expose of abuses at the camp by the magazine Lens in April.
Censors in Beijing have issued an information blackout on Masanjia and other "re-education through labor" stories since the Lens article was published, and placed controls on the magazine in May.
The magazine quoted the diary of Masanjia inmate Wang Guilan as saying that police arbitrarily detained petitioners under the pretext of "maintaining stability" and committed a wide range of horrible abuses against them.
The diary recorded how the camp accepted pregnant women and disabled individuals, forcing them to do strenuous labor for up to 14 hours a day, or risk being beaten or given other punishments.
In an interview with RFA's Mandarin Service in January, former inmate Wang Guilan said that guards chained detainees to chairs or beds and tortured them in hideous ways, including sexually. The women were also ordered to monitor each other closely.
Detainees were denied basic nourishment or medical care, even after becoming physically and mentally ill, and cancer sufferers were not given medical treatment, Wang said.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.