The Chinese authorities must call off their manhunt against those it believes are behind the publication of a letter calling on President Xi Jinping to resign, Amnesty International said, after it was revealed close family members of a prominent dissident are the latest to have been detained.
Chinese blogger and government critic, Wen Yunchao, 45, who currently lives in New York, said on Friday that his mother, Qiu Qiaohua, 65, father, Wen Shaogan, 72, and younger brother Wen Yun’ao, 41, were taken away by police in Guangdong province, southern China on 22 March.
Police are believed to have detained at least 20 people in connection to publication of an open letter criticizing President Xi. This includes 16 people who work for Wu Jie News, the website which published the letter earlier this month, who the BBC reported on Friday have been detained.
“The authorities should call off the political hounding of those suspected to be behind the open letter and release all those detained in connection with it,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.
“The persecution of family members of dissidents is a draconian and unlawful tactic that makes a mockery of China’s claims to respect the rule of law.”
On 17 March, the authorities forced Wen Yunchao’s father and brother to contact him and pressure him to disclose what he knows about who is behind the letter critical of President Xi, and who helped spread the news about the letter. The authorities said Wen Yunchao’s brother would lose his job if Wen didn’t comply. The use of psychological pressure in order to obtain a ‘confession’ is prohibited under international law.
Wen Yunchao maintains that he does not know who is behind the letter or that he had any involvementin its publication.
On 15 March, Beijing police detained the well-known Chinese columnist, Jia Jia, who had been in discussion with the editor of Wu Jie News about the content of the letter. Jia Jia’s lawyer has reported that he had so far been unable to find out his client’s exact whereabouts or what his exact legal status is.
The open letter blames President Xi for trying to build a “personality cult” and abandoning collective leadership in an unprecedented personalization of power. The letter was quickly deleted from the website but had been widely circulated on the internet.