An editor of a Hong Kong newspaper has fled the city and is seeking asylum in the United States, citing political persecution by the ruling Chinese Communist Party after he showed support for the former British colony's 2014 pro-democracy movement.
Long Zhenyang, 47, handed in his resignation as assistant editor-in-chief of the Commercial Daily, one of a trio of Beijing-backed newspapers in the Chinese-controlled territory, after being placed under "political measures" for more than a year, he told RFA in an interview on Wednesday. He said the newspaper has been controlled by Chinese officials under the aegis of the Shenzhen Press Group since 1999.
He had been placed under "political measures" for more than a year prior to his departure, he told RFA in an interview on Wednesday.
"I'm already in the U.S.," Long said. "There's no way I would have laid all my cards on the table until after I had left [China]."
He described the Communist Party as "a terrifying organization."
"I had already been placed under political measures at the paper for over a year, which basically meant that they didn't trust my politics," Long said, adding that he is seeking political asylum.
"It was all because back at the time of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, and also the time when they were demolishing churches in [the eastern Chinese province of] Zhejiang, I made a few comments that they found out about."
"They stopped trusting me," he said. "I hadn't been to work in more than a year, although they were still paying me my salary."
Old-fashioned political struggle
Long, whose job as assistant editor also gave him the status of a party cadre at deputy division chief level, arrived in the United States last year.
He confirmed that the document purporting to be his resignation letter, which began to circulate online last month, was written by him to his then editor-in-chief Chen Yin.
In it, he accuses the paper of a return to the political struggle sessions of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
"The sociopolitical climate in Chinese politics has grown more and more like the Cultural Revolution in recent years," the letter said. "All hope for social reform, and reforms to China's political system, has now been extinguished."
"My [religious] beliefs and my political views mean that I am no longer able to fulfill my role as assistant editor of the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, which is controlled by the Communist Party regime, and so I hereby resign my post," it said.
However, local media reported that Commercial Daily management claimed to have made Long redundant with effect from Jan. 1.
Long said that many of the Hong Kong staff of the newspaper had been "underground party members," but this didn't stop them being sidelined and replaced since the takeover of the paper by the Shenzhen Press Group.
"It became very clear that they didn't trust any of them, and they were all replaced," he said. "The paper's investors [the Joint Publishing Group] were all directly managed by [Beijing's] Central Liaison Office."
"After the takeover by the Shenzhen Press Group, then their opinions would be taken into account as well."
Employer remains silent
An employee of the Shenzhen Press Group confirmed that Long had the status of a deputy division chief in their organization, but declined to comment on his departure.
"You'll have to ask the propaganda department about this, the municipal government propaganda department," the employee said. "Because this is dealing with [queries from] overseas."
"We can't answer any of your questions until the propaganda department has cleared it."
An employee who answered the phone at the Commercial Daily newspaper offices in Hong Kong also declined to comment.
"I don't know. You should call the personnel department," the employee said. But calls to the personnel department rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Long was born in Wuchuan, in the southern province of Guangdong, in 1970, graduating in literature from the Changchun Normal Institute in the northeastern province of Jilin.
He initially took up a post on the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone News, a newspaper run by the Guangdong Foreign Trade Research Institute, before taking a job as chief reporter on the Commercial Daily in 2000 and being promoted from there.
Chinese rights activist Zhang Baocheng said many people share Long's view.
"If you look at the overall direction China has been going in, including President Xi Jinping, it looks more and more like a Red Guard mentality and method," Zhang said.
"We are gradually moving backwards, towards the Cultural Revolution."
Last year, China marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, which many still fear could return in another guise.
The decade of factional armed struggle, mob lynchings, and kangaroo courts turned the country upside down, as late supreme leader Mao Zedong took on his political rivals, using the "revolutionary masses" as political support.
According to political commentators, the administration of President Xi Jinping has played a role in fueling popular support for late supreme leader Mao Zedong, allowing leftists within the party to denounce or attack liberal intellectuals, several of whom have been fired or otherwise targeted after they criticized the Maoist left or Mao himself online.
In public, Xi has stuck to the party line that Mao was a great leader who made some "serious mistakes," and warning that the Chairman was human, not divine, and shouldn't be worshiped as such.
But the government has also denounced any criticism of Mao Zedong or the Communist Party's legacy as "historical nihilism" in recent years, and some analysts fear the president is well on the way to setting up his own personality cult in Mao's stead.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.