New York – Chinese police on Sunday arrested two brothers and a sister of journalist Zhang Ping, who lives in Germany, from his family’s hometown, the journalist told CPJ. The arrests came a week after Zhang published an article decrying the disappearance of another Chinese journalist. Zhang told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he believes police arrested his siblings in retaliation for his work.
Zhang, who is better known by his pen name Chang Ping, is a Germany-based columnist for the Chinese-language site of German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle. On March 19, he published an article criticizing the detention of fellow journalist Jia Jia , as an “abduction,” as “barbaric” punishment for the “crime of seeing.” Jia was detained on suspicion of being connected to an unusually critical March 4 open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In his article, Zhang also praised the international news media and free-expression groups, including CPJ, for bringing Jia’s disappearance to international attention. Police released Jia on March 25, after 10 days in custody, according to press reports.
Zhang told CPJ that on March 27 police in his family’s hometown in Duofu, Sichuan Province, arrested his younger brothers, Zhang Wei and Zhang Xiong, and his younger sister, Zhang Chunmei, while they attended a banquet celebrating their father’s birthday. Zhang told CPJ that a fellow journalist told him that police had released his sister after holding her overnight, but that his brothers are still detained.
Zhang told CPJ that officials had harassed his family in China repeatedly before, and that he had cut contact with his family in China to protect them.
In a statement posted to the Chinese social media website Weibo, the Public Security Department of Sichuan Province said Zhang’s brothers and father are under investigation on suspicion of causing a fire on March 26 by burning incense to venerate their ancestors. CPJ was unable to reach anyone at the police station in Duofu for comment by telephone.
Zhang told CPJ he did not believe the police’s explanation. “This is purely a case of political persecution against me and my family,” he said.
Zhang told CPJ that his brother Wei had called him today to ask him to remove any mention of his siblings’ detention from the Internet, and to cease criticizing the Chinese Communist Party in his writing. The journalist said he received emails from his brother Wei’s account asking him to delete his Deutsche Welle article from the Internet.
One such email, which the journalist posted to the social-media website Facebook on Monday, read: “Brother, please don’t misunderstand. The police were just investigating us according to the law. Please do not publish any documents. Please delete what you have published. Their investigation procedures are all normal and correct. It is you who misunderstood them… It is you who talked nonsense saying that they abducted us. You are responsible for me and my brother’s continued detention at the police station. As long as you delete the articles, we will be let go!”
U.S.-based blogger Wen Yunchao last week told CPJ that he believed officials had detained his parents and brother after police questioned the family for weeks over Wen’s alleged connection to the March 4 letter to Xi. Wen today told CPJ that he believed police are still holding his parents and brother at an unknown location.
“This is the second time in a week that police in China have detained the family of a journalist based abroad,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said. “Detaining, threatening or fabricating charges against the relatives or friends of critical journalists is nothing but crude intimidation and must be condemned.”
Wen and Zhang both denied any involvement in the open letter, which was published on Wujie News (Wathcing News) on March 4. So far, at least four employees of Wujie News, including two senior editors and several employees of a technology company that worked with Wujie News, have also been detained by authorities, according to reports.
(CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.)