On 11 July, two days before Liu Xiaobo’s death in detention, Huang’s mother posted a video calling for her son’s release on humanitarian grounds. Aged 54, he has a kidney ailment that requires a great deal of treatment and frequent hospitalization. His lawyers have repeatedly but unsuccessfully requested his release for medical reasons.
Huang Qi won the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Prize in the Cyber-Dissident category in 2004. His health has been destroyed by mistreatment and violence during a total of eight years in prison. His current spell in detention, which began last October, is his third.
The authorities began hounding him because of what he wrote about the crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests. After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, which left 70,000 dead and 18,000 missing, he published a much quoted article alleging that the shoddy construction of schools contributed to the toll.
His latest spell in detention began in late October 2016, when the police abducted him at the same time as Liu Feiyue, the founder of the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website. Huang was taken into custody on 28 November and was formally arrested on 16 December.
New crackdown on online journalists
The authorities are meanwhile continuing to persecute other journalists who write for 64 tianwang. Yang Xiuqiong was arrested on 23 June and, like Huang, has been charged with “providing state secrets.”
Wang Shurong’s six-year jail sentence on a charge of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” was upheld on 4 July. There is still no news about Lian Huanli, a 64 tianwang journalist who went missing in May.
Awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2016, 64 tianwang was one of the last bastions of freely-reported news and information in China until it finally stopped posting new information on 25 November 2016.
The offensive against the website began in April when one of its women reporters, Wang Jing, was sentenced to four years and ten months in prison, and intensified with the arrests of five more women reporters in September, when China was hosting the G20 summit in Hangzou.
As well as 64 tianwang, the current offensive targets anyone who dares to post freely-reported information. Liu Shaoming, a human rights activist held since May 2015, was sentenced on 7 July to four and a half years in prison for articles about Tiananmen.
An appeal court has upheld the three-year jail terms imposed on three bloggers, Su Changlan, Chen Qitang and Chen Yunfei, who were arrested in 2014 for writing about illegal land seizures.
Ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, China is currently holding more than 50 journalists and bloggers in its prisons.