Rights groups have expressed on Tuesday a growing concern for a Chinese student who had gone missing after posting a video which is critical of the country’s president.
Zhang Wenbin, a university student in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong has been incommunicado since he posted a video to social media calling on President Xi Jinping to step down.
In the video, Zhang Wenbin says he was once a “little pink” supporter of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, but that the Hong Kong protests and Taiwan presidential elections had changed his mind after he scaled the Great Firewall of government internet censorship and saw what was on the other side.
Zhang had been scheduled to graduate this academic year, but has been incommunicado since the video was posted to Twitter on Monday, where it received tens of thousands of views.
Sources said he had been taken in for questioning by local police, on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge often used to target peaceful critics of the regime.
U.S.-based veteran rights activist Yang Jianli said the authorities were unlikely to take Zhang’s actions lightly.
“In China, asking Xi Jinping to step down is a very serious political issue,” Yang told RFA. “If you shout out stuff like that, you could end up in prison for a very long time, as well as risking bringing disaster on your family.”
Yang said the coronavirus epidemic has made people acutely aware of when and how their government lies to them, and of the need for transparency and press freedom, a lesson brought poignantly home in the wake of the death of whistleblowing Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang.
Li succumbed to the coronavirus after being questioned and reprimanded by police for “rumor-mongering” when he and seven colleagues tried to alert the authorities to the threat from the new disease.
“The epidemic has made everyone deeply aware of issues of freedom of speech, which is normally seen as a lofty matter for those in power,” Yang said. “The case of Li Wenliang has made people realize that it is … actually a matter of life and death.”
“The sense is that speaking out isn’t going to kill anyone, whereas millions of people die on account of not speaking out,” he said.
Zhang’s video came as supporters of detained property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who is being investigated by the party’s disciplinary arm after he published a letter highly critical of Xi, called on the Beijing municipal party secretary to release him immediately.
“A person should never be able to suddenly just disappear, in a country where justice and the rule of law are enshrined in its core values,” an open letter calling for Ren’s release said. “Otherwise, society will fall into darkness and people will live in fear.” (Source: RFA)