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Wang Aizhong has been active on social media commenting on human rights issues in China. Photo: Handout

Chinese activist Wang Aizhong spoke his mind on Twitter. Now he’s behind bars

  • Wang co-founded Southern Street Movement in Guangzhou 10 years ago, calling for an end to one-party rule
  • Police say his comments online and to overseas media threatened the state, according to a family friend
To Wang Henan, her husband Wang Aizhong is without doubt a patriot. But to the authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, the veteran activist is nothing but a troublemaker who must be kept on a tight leash.

The 44-year-old activist, who helped found the Southern Street Movement in Guangzhou 10 years ago, was taken into custody on May 28 on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a catch-all offence often used by authorities to muzzle dissent.

The family and the lawyer they hired have been told little more than Wang Aizhong was held at a detention centre in Tianhe district in the city’s east.

Police have barred in-person contact, citing concerns over the Covid-19 outbreak in Guangzhou that has so far sickened fewer than 100 people since it started about two weeks ago.

And a detention notice only refers to the vague picking quarrels charge as the alleged offence.

According to a family friend, both Wang Henan and the lawyer were warned not to speak to the media.

“At the police station, police told Wang Henan that Wang Aizhong was detained because of comments he posted on the internet and interviews he gave to foreign media,” said the family friend who requested anonymity.

“The officers said Wang Aizhong’s actions threatened the state and the government.

“But Wang Henan rejected this and said her husband is a patriot.”

Wang Aizhong, who works for a medical products company, has been active on social media commenting on human rights issues in China.

His online activities brought him attention from the police, who warned him to stay home early last month when he was invited to attend a dinner with a group of private businesspeople in the neighbouring city of Zhongshan.

Wang Aizhong complied but police raided the dinner and took all participants in for questioning.

“It was just some private businesspeople having dinner but the police still took everyone to the station for no good reason,” Wang later wrote on Twitter. “This is what’s happening in China today.”

The family friend said it was not clear if Wang’s Twitter comment was responsible for his latest detention, or if it was a warning to coincide with the 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on Friday.

The friend said two of Wang’s former associates in the Southern Street Movement had also run into trouble with the authorities in recent months.

Wang Mo, another a veteran activist of the movement, was sentenced to three years in prison in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, last month for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”. Xie Wenfei, who also helped found the movement, went on trial in Hunan province on the same charge last month but a decision has not been handed down.

Street protest leader Wang Aizhong freed after month-long detention

Unlike the mass protests in 1989, the Southern Street Movement mostly involved grass-roots labourers. It called for abolition of one-party rule in China, greater political freedoms and public disclosure of government officials’ wealth. The movement came to an end in 2014 when most of its active members were sent to prison or put under close surveillance.

Li Xuewen, an independent political analyst who has studied the movement, said Wang’s detention was likely part of a continuing crackdown by the authorities on the movement’s members.

“Wang played a pivotal role in the movement as one of its founders. The authorities are worried about his influence and want to prevent him becoming a social leader,” Li said.

The family friend said Wang’s detention put great pressure on the family but Wang Henan was determined to fight for her husband’s release.

“Wang Henan has said that she will do all she can to help him because she is certain that he has done nothing against the law,” the friend said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Activist who made online comments on rights issues now behind bars