Human rights in China

Chinese artist who documented migrant evictions in Beijing released on bail

Hua Yong was detained after posting dozens of videos showing the destruction of neighbourhoods in the capital

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 10:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 10:30pm

Beijing-based artist Hua Yong has been released on bail after being detained for his work documenting the mass eviction of migrant workers from the Chinese capital, his friends said on Twitter on Monday.

The artist had been “criminally detained on suspicion of ‘gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic’”, according to a tweet from his friend Li Huaping that included a photo of the artist with his three-year-old daughter and friends.

Artist behind daring tribute to late dissident Liu Xiaobo out of contact in China

Hua arrived in Chengdu, capital of southwestern Sichuan province, from Beijing on Monday evening, it said, adding that he had been released on bail and was about to celebrate his daughter’s birthday.

In the weeks before his detention, Hua had uploaded dozens of videos on YouTube and Chinese social media platform WeChat documenting the destruction of migrant neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Beijing.

He set up the YouTube account only two weeks ago, but his videos have since been viewed tens of thousands of times and some have been translated by others into English.

Hua was taken from a friend’s home in the northern city of Tianjin in the early hours of Saturday after fleeing Beijing to evade police, friends said earlier.

Lawyer Wang Wanqiong said Hua would have to regularly report back to police while on bail, for up to a year, until they decided whether to press ahead with the charge.

In his videos, usually shot with a selfie stick, Hua took viewers into recently demolished migrant neighbourhoods and recorded his conversations with displaced low-income workers.

In one he walks between heaps of rubble, gesturing around him and saying: “The sky is very blue today. But look at what’s behind me – all ruined in an instant.”

How the mass eviction of migrant workers has left Beijing reeling

On Friday night, Hua posted several videos on his Twitter account titled “They’re here”. In the films he said police were at the door and he would soon have to leave with them.

“Daddy is using these last minutes to sing you a song, ‘Happy birthday to you’ … Daddy wants our country to be better. It should be just, fair, free and democratic with free speech,” Hua said, addressing his daughter.

Hundreds of millions of migrants who moved from the countryside to the cities fuelled China’s dramatic economic boom of recent decades.

But some are no longer welcome in overcrowded Beijing, which is seeking to cap its population at 23 million by 2020 and demolish 40 million square metres of illegal structures – mostly shops and homes for migrants – by the end of the year.

Authorities argue that they need to clear dangerous buildings after a fire killed 19 people last month. A blaze in another migrant area killed five people last week.

Fire safety is a major problem in the city’s cheap migrant housing, which often has poor electrical wiring and an absence of emergency exits. But the brutal efficiency of the demolitions and mass evictions has provoked an unusual public outcry that has put officials on edge.

Additional reporting by Mimi Lau and Kristin Huang