3 top intellectuals detained in China

Raids net literary figures, political theorist who had criticized the government

December 14, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING -Chinese police detained three leading intellectuals yesterday who have been critical of the government, apparently stepping up a campaign to silence dissent.

Yu Jie and Liu Xiaobo, leading literary figures, and Zhang Zuhua, a political theorist, were detained in afternoon raids at their homes, relatives and friends said. Yu's relatives were handed a warrant that said he was suspected of "participating in activities harmful to the state," said his wife, Liu Min.

The detentions were the latest in a string of arrests and harassment of journalists, writers and scholars who have spoken out against government policies or written articles or essays that officials have deemed damaging.

Since President Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as China's military chief in September, leaving Hu in command of China's government, ruling party and army, political analysts say the political environment has become more repressive. The scope for discussing sensitive topics in the news media has decreased, they said, while authorities appear intent on punishing people who violate unwritten rules on limits of free speech.

There are signs that Hu is seeking to manage state affairs in a more hands-on and less permissive style than that associated with Jiang, who in his later years focused on carrying out broad economic changes while allowing a degree of openness in the news media.

Political analysts say Hu has made clear that he intends to restore discipline to China's news media while at least temporarily restricting the space available for leading intellectuals to freely express their views about politics, economics and media management. Editors say the propaganda department has received a fresh mandate to micro-manage daily news coverage and to ban newspaper and television coverage of an increasingly lengthy list of sensitive issues, including broad topics such as China's growing social inequality.

Yu and Liu have been outspoken critics for many years. Liu was accused of serving as an organizer of the Chinese democracy movement of 1989, which ended on June 4, 1989, with a violent crackdown. He spent several years in prison in the 1990s.

Three years ago, the two founded a Chinese chapter of the PEN organization, which often defended writers, poets and journalists persecuted by the government.

The two men wrote a series of articles this fall supporting a Hunan-based poet and journalist named Shi Tao. Shi was arrested recently for leaking state secrets, apparently while working as a reporter in Shanghai.

The writers group, which operates without official support, convened an award ceremony in late October to honor Zhang Yihe, the author of a memoir about the repressive "anti-rightist" political campaign in the late 1950s. The book was banned, but pirated copies circulated widely.

Zhang Zuhua, the political theorist, is an associate of Yu and Liu who attended the ceremony. It is unclear what any of the men did to prompt their detention, or whether they will face formal charges.

Liu, Yu's wife, said in a brief telephone conversation that her apartment building was surrounded by police. The phone line to her home was cut in the middle of the conversation.

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