RSF calls for release of website founder abducted last month

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears that the Huang Qi, the founder of the 64 Tianwang news website, has been mistreated since his abduction-style arrest last month and calls for his immediate release.

Aged 53, Huang has not been seen since he was taken from his home in Chengdu, in the western province of Sichuan, during a raid on 28 November involving 15 police officers from Chengdu and the nearby cities of Mianyang and Neijing.

According to several sources, he is accused of “divulging state secrets abroad,” a charge that is often used against the government’s critics and can result in long prison sentences.

“One of the few major independent news websites in China, 64 Tianwang and its citizen-journalists are still being systematically hounded by the Chinese authorities 12 years after its founder, Huang Qi, was awarded RSF’s Press Freedom Prize in the cyber-dissident category,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said.

“Huang’s abduction is part of an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders in China and fears are growing that the authorities may be mistreating and torturing him. We call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

The site’s editor said Huang was taken to the Mian Yang detention centre for a criminal code violation and would probably remain in detention for at least a year pending trial. RSF has been trying in vain to contact Huang Qi’s lawyer. A source close to Huang said his lawyer went to Sichuan on 30 December with the aim of visiting him in prison but the authorities refused permission for the visit.

Police detained a contributor to the site, Pu Fei on 28 November after a tweet about Huang's disappearance that was subsequently deleted. Pu was released on 4 December. Many volunteers at the Tianwang Center for Human Rights have also been arrested and interrogated since Huang's arrest.

Huang's health is a source of great concern. He suffers from acute nephritis (a kidney condition) and needs daily treatment.

Last month, 64 Tianwang was awarded RSF’s 2016 Press Freedom Prize in the media category.

China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, while President Xi Jiping is on RSF’s list of press freedom predators.

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Updated on 23.08.2019