Hong Kong political journal editor arrested in China on 'illegal business' charge

The charge against Chen Zhiming is likely linked to the magazine's criticisms of China, friends say
By Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for RFA Cantonese
2023.01.26
Hong Kong political journal editor arrested  in China on 'illegal business' charge Chen Zhiming is the editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong political magazine Exclusive Characters. Credit: RFA screenshot
Photo: RFA

A chief editor of a Hong Kong-based political magazine who went missing in September has been arrested on suspicion of “running an illegal business,” Radio Free Asia has learned.

Chen Zhiming, a former editor at the People's Daily Press who moved to Hong Kong to set up the Exclusive Characters political magazine specializing in in-depth interviews with influential people, stopped updating his social media accounts from around Sept. 21, 2022, Germany-based poet Yang Lian said.

“Shocked to learn that Chen Zhiming, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong's [Exclusive Characters] magazine has been arrested after he went incommunicado in mainland China," Yang said via his Twitter account on Jan. 21.

The news of the charges against Chen comes amid an ongoing crackdown on "hostile foreign forces," which China has blamed for the wave of anti-lockdown, anti-government "white paper" protests that swept the country in late November, as well as an ongoing crackdown on public dissent under a national security law imposed on Hong Kong from July 2020.

Tackling controversy

Yang said in a later interview with Radio Free Asia that Chen's arrest was likely linked to his magazine's recent focus on the woman found chained in an outhouse in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, which sparked a public outcry.

"Given the current [political] climate in mainland China, where people seen as representing the white paper movement have been detained by police, Exclusive Characters was the only magazine still able to send out any kind of ideological signal," Yang said.

"[Dissidents like Chen] are also connected with opposition to Hong Kong's national security law, which made the magazine stand out," he said. "The magazine is the main reason they are pinning a crime on Chen."

Yang said Chen's magazine had also been critical of China's handling of the pandemic, and had interviewed a number of overseas dissidents.

“It’s all pro-China and red media now”

Taiwan-based bookstore owner Lee Wing Kei, who was himself detained in China for publishing "banned" political books in Hong Kong, said the charge of "running an illegal business" was entirely trumped-up.

"They've just pinned this charge of illegal business on him," Lee said. "If you look at what has happened in the past, you will see that there has been no freedom of the press [in Hong Kong] since Xi Jinping came to power."

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Taiwan-based bookstore owner Lee Wing Kei, who was once detained in China for publishing "banned" political books, says the charge against Chen Zhiming is entirely trumped-up. Credit: RFA

"The Apple Daily, Stand and Citizen News are all gone," he said, in a reference to pro-democracy media organizations that have folded amid national security investigations in recent years. "It's all pro-China and red media now, and Hong Kong will be no different from the mainland in future."

"I used to mail out so-called banned books from Hong Kong to mainland China, but now I'll be mailing out banned books from Taiwan to Hong Kong," Lee said.

On Jan. 12, authorities in Hong Kong delisted jailed pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai's Next Digital from the local stock exchange in a move analysts said was linked to political developments in Hong Kong, where the ruling Chinese Communist Party has taken direct control of the city's daily life, citing the "chaos" of the 2019 protest movement that called for fully democratic elections.

The ruling Communist Party last week appointed hardline Hong Kong national security chief Zheng Yanxiong, who presided over the crackdown on dissent, to head its Central Liaison Office in the city.

Lam was among five booksellers from the now-shuttered Causeway Bay Books store detained by Chinese police, some while they were outside of mainland China's borders, in 2015 on charges of "running an illegal business."

In 2014, a court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen handed a 10-year jail term to Hong Kong publisher Yiu Man-tin, who was 79 at the time, after edited a book highly critical of Xi Jinping. The Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court found Yiu guilty of "smuggling."

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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