A Maoist activist who sought to have jailed former Chongqing Communist Party boss Bo Xilai head a communist splinter party has been released at the end of his sentence, but remains incommunicado, RFA has learned.
Ma Houzhi was arrested in 2009 after he tried to set up a new political party, the Maoist Communist Party, something that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never tolerated.
"He was arrested in Chongqing for holding a meeting of the Maoist Communist Party there," a lefist who gave only his surname Chen told RFA. "They arrested 30 or 40 people altogether. Ten of those were sentenced ... in Chongqing."
"Nobody knows where they were sent after sentencing, which was all done at secret trials," Chen said. "It wasn't made public."
Ma was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on charges that haven't been made public either, he said.
"I heard that these sorts of cases [are dealt with] at the national level, who take charge of them directly," Chen said. "Chongqing just had to go along with it."
The crackdown on the fledgling Maoist party came when Bo Xilai was still Communist Party secretary for Chongqing municipality, a southwestern megacity that reports directly to Beijing.
Ma and his fellow activists were detained by a squad of around 150 armed police and state security police on Oct. 15 at the Black Mountain Valley Scenic Area in Chongqing's Heishan district, according to a report written by a member of the Mao Zedong Communist Party.
The arrests were directed by then Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, whose flight to the U.S. consulate in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu on Feb. 6, 2012 began a string of events that led to his jailing, as well as that of Bo for corruption and Bo's wife Gu Kailai for the murder of British businessman and family friend Neil Heywood.
Ma was detained alongside fellow party member Wei Puxiang and dozens of others, and held for two years' pretrial detention.
Ma and Wei were both jailed for 10 years, while Deng Guobing, Niu Yong and He Yuanfa got five-year sentences. Wang was himself arrested just one year later.
Likely being held incommunicado
Ma was released on Tuesday after serving his term, but his current situation is unknown, and he is likely being held incommunicado, Chen said.
According to Chen, Ma had put forward Bo's name as either general secretary or honorary chairman of his new party.
It is unclear whether Bo, whose tenure in Chongqing was known for its celebration of Mao-era communism and revolutionary anthems, was complicit in the plan, however.
"It's hard to say whether Bo Xilai accepted [these positions] or not," Chen said. "Back then, Bo Xilai was a member of the Politburo, and was a part of the system."
"[Bo] did make use of Maoist themes and images, but I don't think that necessarily meant that he was willing to go as far as Ma Houzhi and the others, and seek to overturn the entire political order," Chen said.
Chongqing-based scholar Tan Gangqiang said Ma Houzhi and around 200 of his supporters nationwide had been planning to seek Bo Xilai's protection, which was why the Maoist Communist Party meeting took place in Chongqing.
Bo's willingness to move against them was linked to his own sense of political vulnerability, Tan said.
"The fate of the Maoist Communist Party, and that of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun once more served as a warning to the population that there are no systemic guarantees of protection," Tan said.
"No matter how high-ranking you are, nor how rock-solid your ideological credentials, you won't be safe," he said.
Repeated calls to the Chongqing municipal police department and the Chongqing People's Court rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Bo Xilai was handed a life sentence in prison on bribery charges, a 15-year jail term for embezzlement, and seven years for abuse of power in September 2013.
No splinter groups tolerated
The chairman of China's securities regulator Liu Shiyu told a meeting of top finance officials during the 19th party congress in October 2017 that the once-rising political star had plotted to seize power from the current leadership under President Xi Jinping.
The leadership transition that eventually led to an indefinite term in office for Xi as president was finalized at the 18th Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Nov. 8, 2012, the same day that Bo Xilai was expelled from the ruling party.
The ouster and trial of Bo was the most serious upheaval in the highest echelons of China's leadership since Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was purged in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Unconfirmed overseas media reports at the time said that Wang Lijun had sought political asylum at the U.S. consulate, which was refused, and that he had offered evidence incriminating Bo in Heywood's murder.
U.S.-based art historian and columnist Wu Zuolai said the Chinese Communist Party doesn't tolerate splinter organizations, regardless of whether they stem from the liberal reform faction or the Maoist left of the party.
"These leftists are particularly taboo, and carry a particular kind of terror for the Communist Party," Wu said, citing the recent detentions and disappearances of dozens of Mao-inspired labor activists from top Chinese universities after they supported a labor movement in the southern city of Shenzhen.
"Bo Xilai knew what he was doing, so he would naturally go after the left as well as the right [in arresting Ma and other activists]," he said.
Activists have repeatedly called for the release of more than 40 former workers at the Jasic Technology factory in Guangdong province and members of the Jasic Workers' Solidarity Group (JWSG), who were supporting them.
At least 44 labor activists, students, and recent graduates of China's top universities have been "disappeared" or criminally detained since the nationwide crackdown on the Jasic labor movement, which started in July 2018 and continued with further waves of arrests and detentions in August, September and November 2018, and into January 2019.
Among the "disappeared" are Sun Yat-sen University graduate and Jasic movement spokeswoman Shen Mengyu and Peking University #MeToo campaigner Yue Xin.
Shang Kai—a former editor for the Maoist website Red Reference who was supporting the Jasic campaign—was released on "bail" under conditions preventing him from appearing in public.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.