Chinese government detains filmmaker over documentary about prominent activist
Prominent Chinese activist Xu Zhi-Yong was arrested by the Chinese government in February after he organized a dinner gathering in Xiamen city last December. Two months after his arrest, filmmaker Chen Chia-Ping, who was producing a documentary about Hsu, has reportedly been arrested by the Chinese government last month. He is now put under residential surveillance at a designated location.
As it marks two months since prominent Chinese activist Xu Zhi-Yong was arrested by the Chinese government, another public figure who interacted with Hsu over the last months has now been detained by the police. Chen Chia-Ping, an independent filmmaker and poet, was arrested in early March for producing a documentary about Xu. He has been charged with “subversion of state” and is currently put under “residential surveillance at a designated location.” (RSDL)
Weiqiuanwang, a website that publishes information about human rights activism in China, released an open letter from Chen’s wife on April 13, 39 days after Chen was arrested by the Chinese police. In the letter, she wrote that over the last month, she has been remaining silent as part of her deal with the police, hoping that in turn the Chinese government would share detailed information about Chen’s arrest with her. However, the Chinese government never gave her any information about her husband’s forced disappearance.
So Chen’s wife decided to release the open letter on April 12, which happened to be Chen’s 50th birthday. She detailed the process of Chen’s arrest and how she and the family had been waiting to hear back from the government about her disappeared husband.
“Over the last 38 days, I tried to send letters to you through local police, and I also expressed my desire to visit you in detention,” Chen’s wife wrote. “However, they always told me that now wasn’t the right time.”
She also mentioned in the letter that even though footage of Chen’s documentary about Xu Zhi-Yong hasn’t created any buzz in China, police had already confiscated all the materials, hoping to turn it into some type of evidence against Chen and possibly Xu.
“I hope the police can release you out of sympathy for our family, and I hope you will be released before April 12,” she wrote. “So you don’t have to spend your 50th birthday in prison.”
Turning documentary footage into evidence against Hsu Chih-Yong
Chen is not the only person who has been targeted by the Chinese police since Xu’s arrest in February. Prominent Chinese activist Hu Jia has been put under house arrest since January 13, the day he met up with Xu’s girlfriend Li Chiao-Chu. He is now surveilled by a group of police at all times and he has only been allowed to meet his parents two times since he was put under house arrest.
According to Hu, Chen has produced a lot of documentaries about the social reality in China, and while he may have been pressured by the Chinese government in the past, Hu didn’t expect the government to use such hardline measures against Chen.
“Over the last few months, anyone who is connected to the secret gathering organized by Xu Zhi-Yong on December 26, 2019, have all been put under RSDL by the Chinese government,” Hu said. “This measure has been widely used in political cases, and during the six-month detention, detainees won’t be able to meet their lawyers and they will have to experience all kinds of interrogations and the pressure from the government alone.”
Hu believes that the Chinese government views Chen’s documentary on Xu as a potentially important influence on the Chinese civil society, so in order to prevent the documentary from appearing on Chinese citizens’ radars, the government decided to use hardline measures to stop Chen.
“Xu has long been viewed as someone with political ambition by the Chinese Communist Party, so in order to prevent the documentary about him to reshape Chinese citizens’ ideologies, the Chinese government wants to use the arrest of Chen as a way to further weaken Xu’ influence in China,” Hu said. “They also want to use the documentary as a powerful evidence to charge Xu with whatever crimes that they plan to impose on him.”
Hu points out that audiovisual materials are often the best evidence to prove the things that someone has said and done, so to the Chinese government, arresting Chen will allow them to obtain more evidence of Xu and learn more about this powerful enemy.
“The Chinese government has viewed Xu as one of their top enemies for years and arresting him is a way for them to prevent an anti-government power from forming within the Chinese society,” Hu said. “In order to stop China from getting onto the path of democratization, the Chinese Communist Party will use all kinds of ways to stop the society from progressing while they try to crack down on any political forces that might be forming in China.”
This piece first appeared in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.