Retired Professor, Wife, Home From Detention in China's Shandong

Sun Wenguang says an online post, including photograph, claiming the couple went on vacation was 'fake.'

Sun Wenguang speaks to a reporter at his home in Jinan, Shandong, in a file photo.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have released an outspoken democracy activist and retired university lecturer and his wife, after holding them under surveillance at a hill resort outside the provincial capital, Jinan.

Sun Wenguang, 84, who has repeatedly criticized the ruling Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, was taken away by police who burst into his home and interrupted a live interview with Voice of America (VOA) TV on Aug. 2.

He was released alongside his wife late on Monday, although the couple will likely remain under surveillance, and with limited freedom to move around or contact others.

"They took us both away for [about] 10 days," Sun told VOA after his return home. "We went to four different guesthouses, some of which had the windows blocked out, so they were basically unofficial jails."

He said the authorities' claim that he had simply taken a vacation was "fake."

"They had ... my wife put out a statement saying we were going on vacation, but that wasn't the case at all," Sun said. "We weren't on vacation; that was just a facade they want to create, with a photograph and everything, just to post online."

Meanwhile, VOA journalist Ye Bing and a news assistant detained as they tried to interview Sun after his return home were released in the early hours of Tuesday.

Repeated calls to Sun's cell phone and landline rang unanswered on Tuesday.

An officer who answered the phone at the Shanda Road police station near Sun's Shandong University in Jinan declined to comment.

"I can't tell you that," the officer said. "I have no way of confirming your identity."

Terror tactics

Yang Sen-hong, president of the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, accused the authorities of trying to "terrorize" Sun.

"These are basically terror tactics," Yang told RFA. "The authorities are now so weak that they even fear the words of a man like Sun Wenguang, who has been a scholar all his life."

"This incident shows just how influential Sun Wenguang is in China," he said, adding that Sun's detention was likely ordered at the highest level.

"I don't think the state security police in Shandong were targeting the wrong person," he said. "This is national-level policy, and had all the power of the state behind it."

A friend of Sun's who gave only her surname Hu said that international media attention may have contributed to the couple's return home.

"Yes, I do think that it puts pressure [on Beijing], because they do listen to these opinions from the international community, whether they are good or bad," she said.

"Of course [international attention] brings some pressure to bear; we just don't really know to what extent, or to what degree."

Sun's outspoken views resulted in a jail term during the political turmoil and violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) under late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

Sun was among countless intellectuals and professionals in that era locked up in "cow-pens" while their jobs were taken over by the "revolutionary masses."

In a statement on Monday, the U.S. State Department expressed "deep concern" over Sun's detention.

"We strongly condemn China's worsening abuse of human rights, in particular the suppression of the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly and the unlawful detention of activists, lawyers, journalists, and civil-society leaders seeking to defend those freedoms," a State Department spokesperson said.

"We continue to call on China to allow all individuals to express their views without fear of retribution and for journalists to do their jobs without interference."

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