Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the heavy-handed interrogations and threats to which detained journalist Qi Chonghuai is being subjected in the eastern province of Shandong, and calls for the immediate release of him and his friend, photographer Ma Shiping, who was arrested with him.
His lawyer, Li Xiongbing, told Agence France-Presse: “The police have slapped him in the face more than 20 times... they told him they could hit him as much as they liked and could disguise his death as suicide.”
Arrested in June after criticising corruption in Tengzhou, a city in the west of Shandong province, Qi was charged in August with blackmail. “The accusations of extortion are inadmissible as all he did was report on corruption,” his wife, Jiao Xia, told AFP.
As Qi and Ma have still not been brought before a judge, the period they have spent in police custody is much longer than what the law allows.
Reporter Qi Chonghuai (photo) and freelance photographer Ma Shiping are being held in the eastern province of Shandong for exposing corruption in the local Communist Party. Reporters Without Borders calls for their release and condemns the action of the police in holding Qi incommunicado for more than six weeks.
Police in Tengzhou, in the eastern province of Shandong, held journalist Qi Chonghuai incommunicado for more two months after arresting him at his home in the nearby city of Jinan on 25 June 2007. The police finally formalized his arrest on 2 August, but his wife did not receive notification that he is being held until this week.
Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of Qi and a friend of his, freelance photographer Ma Shiping, who was arrested on 16 June for the same reason as Qi - for exposing corruption in the Tengzhou Communist Party.
"The behaviour of the police in holding Qi incommunicado for two months is deplorable but unfortunately common in China," the press freedom organisation said. "It is also unlikely that Ma is being held for posting photos of an official building on the Internet, even if he is not officially accredited as a photographer."
Reporters Without Borders added: "The charge of blackmail against Qi and the claim that he misrepresented himself as journalist have been fabricated by the police because the local authorities want to punish him for accusing them of corruption."
At least 32 journalists are in prison in China just for doing their job. They include New York Times researcher Zhao Yan, who is serving a three-year sentence on the grotesque charge of fraud.
The police went after Qi and Ma in June after they published an article and photos about corruption within the Tengzhou Communist Party on the Xinhuanet website. Ma was arrested on 16 June. A member of the staff at Tengzhou Daily, which used to employ Ma, said: "He dared to say what the accredited reporters did not dare write - he dared to say the truth."
After Ma’s arrest, Qi was initially summoned as a witness, in the hope that he could be persuaded to testify against his friend. Qi refused, and a few days later he posted a photo of a luxurious official building in Tengzhou on the overseas-based website Dajiyuan (Epoch Times). The photo was seen as supporting the allegations of local corruption and caused a stir on the Internet. Thereafter, the Tengzhou Public Security Bureau set about trying to discredit Ma and Qi in the press and online.
When police arrested Qi at his home on 25 June, they seized his computer and a press card identifying him as a journalist working for the newspaper Fazhi Zaobao (Legal System Morning News). The local authorities insist that Qi has never been a journalist, while the provincial authorities say Fazhi Zaobao does not exist. It has been renamed Fazhi Zhoumo (Legal System News). The police say Qi was posing as a journalist but many bylined articles by him about corruption have been published.