Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained outspoken writer and former journalism professor Jiao Guobiao on subversion charges after he posted online commentaries about the disputed islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, overseas rights groups said.
Jiao Guobiao was detained on Sept. 12 by Beijing police on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power" after he published his views on the dispute over the unoccupied Diaoyu islands, which have sparked a wave of anti-Japanese protests across China in recent days, according to the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group.
Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Chinese government to release Jiao, who lost his job as a journalism professor at the prestigious Peking University after he criticized the powerful but secretive central propaganda department of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"We are deeply disturbed to learn that Jiao Guobiao has been detained and call on Beijing's public security bureau to release him immediately," CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in a statement published on the group's website.
"China's defense of its claim to the ... islands is a matter of public interest, and journalists in China should be allowed to comment on it freely," Simon said.
Zhang Yu, of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, said he had read Jiao's posts before he was detained.
"They were very moving posts, which talked about the Diaoyu islands and political reform," Zhang said. "The articles were very short, just a few lines each."
"Now, they have been judged to be tantamount to incitement to subversion," he said. "Whatever you think about that, it's terrible that a person can be criminalized just for what they say."
In one of the posts, Jiao takes issue with a recent comment from the foreign ministry spokesperson, saying that Beijing's claims that China will no longer be humiliated are false.
"It is the lot of the Chinese people to be humiliated," he wrote. "If they were bullied by outsiders in the past, now they are being bullied by scoundrels from their own land."
Calls to Jiao's cell phone on Tuesday met with a recorded message saying the phone's service had been terminated.
Freedom of speech
Beijing-based rights lawyer Mo Zhixu said he had heard from Jiao's relatives that the former journalism professor had been criminally detained.
"The person who told me this is very reliable, and has been in touch with Jiao Guobiao's wife," Mo said. "I also know that they had a guard on his house on Sept. 12 and 13, the time that he was arrested."
Mo said he regretted that the authorities had taken such measures against someone for something they wrote.
The Hong Kong chapter of Chinese Independent PEN also called for Jiao's release.
"Jiao Guobiao's case shows very clearly that freedom of speech in China is the worst it has ever been," said Pan Jiawei, director of the group's Hong Kong office.
In 2004, Jiao launched a blistering attack on the Communist Party's propaganda officials, saying they were effectively lending a helping hand to evildoers and corrupt officials by muzzling the country's news organizations.
Jiao, who made his views known in an online article titled "Crusade against the Propaganda Department," later lost his associate professorship at Peking University's Center for Media and Communications Studies.
China's propaganda officials "suppress everything in the name of stability" and muzzle news reporting at every turn, the article said.
He accused the department of stifling the media and of taking away the right of the people to know what is going on.
Chinese reporters say they are caught between top-down directives from Party propaganda bureaus and the vested interests of local corrupt officials and criminal organizations.
According to a report last year by the CPJ, 27 Chinese journalists were behind bars on Dec. 1, 2011.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.