Chinese journalist missing after trying to fly to Hong Kong

Jia Jia disappeared after publication of open letter calling for President Xi Jinping to quit

President Xi Jinping at the closing ceremony of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference  in Beijing: the open article published online called for his resignation. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

President Xi Jinping at the closing ceremony of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing: the open article published online called for his resignation. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

 

An outspoken Chinese journalist has apparently gone missing as he was about to fly to Hong Kong, and activists suspect a connection between his disappearance and a letter online this month calling for President Xi Jinping to stand down.

Jia Jia, a 35-year-old columnist with 84,000 Twitter followers, has not posted on his Twitter feed since March 13th and he could be the latest victim of a widening crackdown on dissenting voices in China.

Mr Jia was last heard from at about 8pm on Tuesday, according to a report in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The paper said Mr Jia had last been heard from late on Tuesday, and it quoted his wife saying he had called to say he was through customs and getting ready to board.

“I do not know if he was taken from the airport lounge or from the plane or in Hong Kong,” one friend, who was also not named, was quoted as saying by the Apple Daily.

Before flying from Beijing to Hong Kong, he told a number of friends that he was afraid that he would be detained and questioned.

Over the years, numerous activists, including artist Ai Weiwei, have been picked up as they attempted to fly to Hong Kong. The territory enjoys a high degree of autonomy, although there have been questions raised after a group of five missing Hong Kong publishers of controversial books were thought to have been abducted and taken to Beijing for selling literature banned in mainland China.

The China Change website said the incident was believed to be connected to a dynamite open letter to Mr Xi published on the watching.cn website, which has links to the Chinese government.

Mr Jia told friends he had contacted a former colleague of his, Ouyang Hongliang, who is executive editor of Wujie website, to discuss the letter.

Mr Ouyang was subsequently contacted by the authorities and said that he had heard about it from Mr Jia, China Change reported. Authorities also contacted Mr Jia’s family members in Shaanxi province.

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”. The article appeared on the opening day of China’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress, and caused quite a stir as it accused the president of building a cult of personality around himself.

Apple Daily said the letter appeared after watching.cn was hacked, which makes sense as watching.cn is a propaganda site funded by the Xinjiang publicity department, Alibaba and the SEEC Media Group.

Soon after it appeared, the post went viral and the site was quickly shut down. When it came back up, the post was, unsurprisingly, deleted.

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.

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.