Chinese top internet portals have suspended the social media and blog accounts of Li Chengpeng, silencing one of China’s most outspoken political commentators online.
The 45-year old television celebrity and author of best-selling books has over the last years shifted from commenting on soccer to talking about politics, not shying away from controversial social issues such as the death penalty, corruption and violent urban law enforcers .
But as of Tuesday, Li’s microblogs and blogs on Sina and Tencent, which had more than seven million followers, were not accessible – sparking a deluge of posts, some of which were later deleted, debating why it happened. "Even if I don't approve of Li's remarks, I am against suspending his accounts," wrote Tao Jingzhou, a laywer in Beijing.
The state newspaper Global Times hinted in a commentary on Tuesday  that “radical liberals” like Li had to “pay a price for their criticism”.
Contrary to speculation online, a person familiar with Li's situation said his suspension was not triggered by a speech he gave at Peking University, The university did not announce such a speech on its website or microblog.
The shutdown had been triggered by other reasons, which the source declined to elaborate on. The person insisted that Li did not delete the online accounts himself.
Li could not be reached for comment on the phone or through text messages. Li is tailed by state security minders, who at times in the past have instructed him not to comment publicly, he told the South China Morning Post last year.
As a bold and controversial commentator, Li has faced attacks by leftist critics and took to wearing a stab-proof vest during his book tour last year. He famously wore a face mask after being banned from speaking at a book-signing in Chengdu, Sichuan province, last year.
Over the past year, many online commentators like Li with millions of followers – dubbed “Big-Vs” – have been silenced with measures ranging from arrest to intimidation and having their accounts suspended.
In a commentary on Tuesday, the Global Times newspaper argued that Li, among other “radical liberals”, had “crossed the bottom line” of what was open for debate in the country.
“In the pursuit of ‘freedom of speech’, the radical liberal faction cannot converge to dissect the nation’s politics and openly challenge the nation’s political system,” the commentary read, adding that many earlier critics had to pay a price for their criticism.
“Today’s radical liberals better not replicate these people tragedies,” it concluded.
Many of those who commented on Li’s online disappearance shared the purported full text of a speech Li gave a Peking University.
“I am not a man in pursuit of politics, I only pursue the rights I deserve, the right to speak and the right to write,” he said. “I hope that this nation has only temporarily lost its speech.”