Prominent Chinese Rights Activist Incommunicado After Graveyard Visit

Zhu Chengzhi, who is well-known in China’s dissident community, may be under criminal detention after he visited the grave of a Mao-era dissident.

Flowers left by activists are shown at the grave of Lin Zhao in Suzhou, China, April 29, 2018.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu are believed to be holding a prominent rights activist after he tried to visit the grave of executed Mao-era dissident Lin Zhao last weekend.

Zhu Chengzhi has been incommunicado since the early hours of Sunday morning, when he was taken away from the Lingyan Shan hillside cemetery on the outskirts of Suzhou.

He was detained alongside fellow activists who came to lay wreaths to mark the anniversary of Lin's execution for alleged counterrevolutionary crimes under the rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

His friend Yi Zhengan said he has been trying to locate Zhu ever since, and believes he is being held in the Xukou police station in Suzhou.

“Zhu Chengzhi went to the cemetery to lay flowers, and was taken away by a very big group of armed police,” Yi told RFA on Friday. “I think he could be in some trouble, because they normally release them on the same day; they don’t usually hold them for longer than 24 hours.”

Yi said no official documents regarding Zhu’s status have been forthcoming, however.

“I reported him missing to police, and they told me to go and inquire at Xukou police station, even though he was detained by officers from Cangshu police station,” he said.

But an officer who answered the phone at the Cangshu police station on Friday said Zhu’s family have already been informed of his status.

“We have already informed the family of the details, so you can just ask them,” the officer said.

Intent to arrest

Fellow activist and Hunan resident Hu Jian said he had also expected Zhu to be released after a short time.

“At first I thought it was just because he refused to cooperate in giving a statement; Zhu has a pretty stubborn personality,” Hu said. “But he has been held for so long now, that I don’t think that can be the reason. I think the authorities intend to arrest him.”

Asked if the visit to Lin Zhao’s grave was the only reason behind his continued detention, Hu said: “I think there are probably other reasons too; Zhu was always on the front line of activism.”

He said Zhu is still subjected to bail restrictions after a fairly recent release from prison, and that the authorities could use this as an excuse to lock him up again.

“It’s looking very likely,” Hu said.

Hubei-based rights activist Bao Naigang said Zhu had been moved to Xukou police station after the initial detention by officers based at Cangshu.

But he said officers had repeatedly denied Zhu was being criminally detained, and his family denies receiving any official notification of his whereabouts or status.

Yi said Zhu is well-known among China’s activist community.

“Zhu Chengzhi is quite well-known in Chinese dissident circles,” Yi said. “It looks as if he was the instigator of the trip to Suzhou, and he may no pay the price for that, but we don’t know what his status is, whether he is under administrative detention and will be out in a few days, or whether he is being criminally detained.”

Poignant symbol

The authorities have previously stopped short of formally arresting activists who come to pay their respects at Lin Zhao’s grave, simply escorting them back to their hometowns as soon as possible.

Lin Zhao, whose birth name was Peng Lingzhao, has long been a poignant symbol for Chinese dissidents and democracy activists, but she has since also become a focal point for the country's army of petitioners, ordinary people who pursue complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party through official channels.

A writer who grew up near Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, Lin was a star student at the prestigious Beijing University's Chinese language department in the 1950s, before being branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" in 1957 for her criticism of then supreme leader Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Movement targeting intellectuals.

She was executed by firing squad at Shanghai's Longhua Airport in 1968 at the age of 36 after her sentence was changed to the death penalty because she refused to plead guilty.

Zhu has previously been held on suspicion of subversion after he questioned the official verdict of suicide in the death of late veteran labor activist Li Wangyang.

His detention was later downgraded to “residential surveillance” following a public outcry.

A Chinese police investigation into Li's death in June 2013 upheld an earlier verdict of suicide, in spite of widespread public doubts over the claim that the severely disabled 62-year-old hanged himself.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.