■ Beijing — A Chinese journalist who had written critically of the government was being held by the authorities on Friday on suspicion that he helped draft a letter calling for the resignation of President Xi Jinping, his lawyer and friends said.
The journalist, Jia Jia, a 35-year-old freelance writer based in Beijing, was detained on Tuesday as he prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong, according to his lawyer, Yan Xin.
|Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has taken
an increasingly hard line toward dissent, imprisoning dozens of
activists, lawyers and journalists.
Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The letter the authorities were investigating was an incendiary denunciation of Mr. Xi’s leadership that also spoke of threats to the president’s safety if he did not resign, friends and relatives of Mr. Jia said.
The letter, which was published this month on a Chinese news site and widely circulated online, was signed simply, “Loyal Communist Party members.” Mr. Jia told friends before his detention that he had not written the letter.
Human rights advocates criticized the Chinese government’s handling of the case, saying that it appeared to be part of an effort to harass and silence critics. Under Mr. Xi, the government has taken an increasingly hard line toward dissent, imprisoning dozens of lawyers, activists and journalists and demanding absolute loyalty from the news media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group based in New York, said in a statement late Thursday that it was “deeply concerned” by Mr. Jia’s disappearance.
“Officials must disclose where they are holding him and why,” said Bob Dietz, the coordinator of the committee’s Asia program.
Airport security officials said they had no information on Mr. Jia.
Mr. Jia is known for his wry, pointed style, embodied in one of his favorite catchphrases: “I am not a mouthpiece.” He has taken on topics deemed sensitive by the government with uncharacteristic zeal, writing bitter critiques of corrupt officials and scathing indictments of the Communist Party’s control of information.
|Jia Jia, a journalist who has written critically of the
government, was detained as he prepared to board a flight to
Hong Kong, his lawyer said. Shen Liang
After chemical explosions erupted in Tianjin, a northeastern port city, last year, killing 165 people, Mr. Jia lamented the lack of public accountability. “Why is it that tragedies are always turned into occasions to praise the government?” he wrote. His social media accounts were quickly shut down.
While Mr. Jia is capable of cynicism, he has not been an advocate of regime change in China, friends and colleagues said.
“He doesn’t have strong opinions about the current leadership,” said Wu Qiang, a freelance writer and former lecturer in political science at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “He is a relative moderate.”
In the days leading up to his apparent detention, as the authorities questioned Mr. Jia’s relatives, Mr. Jia told friends that he had nothing to do with the letter. When Mr. Jia saw the letter on the website of Wujie News, a state-run publication, he notified a friend at the publication, fearing he might be punished, according to Zhao Hui, a fellow writer.
The letter attacked Mr. Xi’s handling of social, diplomatic and economic affairs, and it criticized his tight grip on power. It also implied threats to the safety of Mr. Xi and his family if he stayed in office.
“How could it be possible that he wrote it?” Mr. Zhao said. “It could never happen.”
It was unclear how the letter made it past China’s vast censorship apparatus; editors at Wujie News did not respond to requests for comment.
In recent months, the authorities in Beijing have cracked down on criticism of Mr. Xi. In one of the most high-profile cases, several booksellers in Hong Kong vanished after publishing materials critical of the Communist Party.
The authorities appeared to be conducting a broad investigation into the letter, which emerged as China’s political leaders were gathering in Beijing for a meeting of the national legislature.
Wen Yunchao, a Chinese writer living in New York and a friend of Mr. Jia, said that his own parents, who live in China, had recently been questioned about whether he had any involvement in drafting the letter. “It has zero relation to me,” Mr. Wen wrote on Twitter.