China detains 20 over online letter calling for Xi Jinping to resign

Post on state-backed website accused president of building a cult of personality

 Chinese president Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. Last month, the president visited the three main state propaganda organs and urged them to stick closely to party lines in their reporting. Photograph:  Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images

Chinese president Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. Last month, the president visited the three main state propaganda organs and urged them to stick closely to party lines in their reporting. Photograph: Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images

 

Chinese security officials have detained 20 people in connection with the publication on a state-backed website of a letter calling on President Xi Jinping to resign, the latest episode in a widening crackdown on dissenting voices in China.

The letter called for Mr Xi to resign as general secretary of the Communist Party and head of state, and was bylined “a loyal Communist Party member”.

“We write this letter asking you to resign from all party and state leadership positions,” the letter ran. It appeared on the opening day of China’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress, and caused a major stir as it accused the president of building a cult of personality around himself.

There have been some critical articles published in the Chinese media of late, but it is extremely unlikely that a state outlet would print such an inflammatory letter on purpose. The private theory is that the website was possibly hacked by an overseas organisation.

Wen Yunchao, a Chinese blogger and government critic living in New York, tweeted that his mother Qiu Qiaohua (65), his father Wen Shaogan (72), and younger brother Wen Yun’ao (41), were taken away by police in Guangdong province on March 22nd, apparently in connection with the posting on Wujie News.

“My parents and brother living on the mainland were taken and we have lost contact with them. They are putting pressure on me to admit my involvement in the open letter. I know nothing about it,” he wrote.

This month, the outspoken journalist Jia Jia went missing as he was about to fly to Hong Kong, and activists suspect a connection between his disappearance and the letter.

Jia Jia, a 35-year-old columnist with 84,000 Twitter followers, reportedly called the editor of Wujie to enquire about it after seeing it online.

“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,” said Mr Nee.

Earlier this month the business magazine Caixin ran two stories criticising censorship. Last month, the president visited the three main state propaganda organs and urged them to stick closely to party lines in their reporting.

The “Great Firewall of China” keeps a tight rein on the internet in China. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other western sites are all banned, and local social media, such as the vastly popular WeChat, is closely monitored to make sure it does not post dissenting views.

Last month, China’s internet watchdog shut down the social media accounts of a high-profile property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who has posted articles critical of the president and called for the state media to serve the people, not the Communist Party.