Chinese activist detained for reporting on the Sichuan earthquake

A Chinese environmental activist and writer is currently detained on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. Local sources have said that they believe Tan Zuoren’s detention is linked to his intention to issue public materials on the first anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.

These materials include a list of children who died during the earthquake on 12 May 2008, along with an independent report on the collapse of many school buildings due to faulty construction.

“Tan Zuoren is another example of an individual under suspicion of a state security crime who was merely peacefully exercising his human rights., By turning his attention to the victims of the Sichuan earthquake, Tan Zuoren crossed that invisible line that put him at odds with Chinese authorities. Seeking justice and truth is not a crime and he should be released immediately,” said Roseann Rife, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme.

Tan Zuoren was arrested by the police in Chengdu city, Sichuan on Saturday 28 March. He is now held at Wenjiang Detention Centre, and may be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

According to sources, local police requested Tan Zuoren to go to the police station for a talk on Saturday morning. At approximately 3pm, a group of police officers searched his home.

The police took away some of his writings, other documents and video CDs and told his wife over the phone they had something to deliver to her. In the evening, the family received a notice issued by the Chengdu City Police Station, which stated that Tan Zuoren had been detained for criminal investigation. The police rejected his wife’s request to meet with him.
Prior to this detention, Tan Zuoren had been repeatedly questioned by the police. He was also previously harassed by unidentified individuals who stole his computer twice and stabbed his dog.

Tan Zuoren is a prominent environmentalist. He previously issued a report warning against possible health, safety and environmental hazards from the government’s PX chemical projects in Sichuan province. He also volunteered to work with disaster management after the earthquake.

In the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, Chinese authorities initially allowed unprecedented and widely praised reporting freedoms in the quake zone. However, they later restricted foreign journalists, barring them from entry or escorting them out of towns in the affected areas.

Human rights activists trying to investigate the reasons for building collapses and families who lost their children and are trying to seek justice are being harassed and are under surveillance.