Chinese Authorities Detain Journalists Interviewing Professor Critical of Government

(Updated) Journalists released after spending hours in custody

China's President Xi Jinping
China's President Xi Jinping / Getty Images

Voice of America's Mandarin Service correspondent Yibing Feng and multimedia journalist Allen Ai were arrested by Chinese police Monday while interviewing a Chinese professor.

The professor, Sun Wenguang, had tried to do a live TV interview on VOA's "Issues and Opinions" show two weeks ago but was taken by Chinese authorities, according to VOA. When journalists attempted to interview the professor in his apartment through a locked door, authorities in the hallway disrupted the interview and ultimately detained the two journalists in Jinan, Shandong province.

"It is outrageous that two journalists have been detained for nothing more than doing their jobs," said VOA Director Amanda Bennett, who called for their release.

They were freed after spending at least six hours in custody, VOA reported.

In a cellphone call to VOA editors in Washington, Feng was heard talking to Chinese officers, who refused to tell him where he was going and demanded to take his equipment. He refused to hand it over, noting it is U.S. government property because VOA is a U.S. government broadcasting entity.

Professor Sun, 84, was moved to four locations in the last two weeks, including to a military-linked hotel at Jinan Military Region, and now security officers stay in his home.

"Now I have been locked in at my dwelling," he said. "My wife and I have been in a forced trip outside our residence for 10 days and we stayed in four hotels. And now we are back to our home finally. But they sent four security guys to sleep in our home."

He likened China's trade barriers to its press barriers and said the government does not allow journalistic freedom.

"Here in China, we have a lack of freedom of press," the professor said. "Authorities have blocked and suppressed press freedom. Chinese authorities have a practice of trade barrier and press barrier. Why can Chinese reporters act as journalists in the U.S. freely while U.S. reporters cannot do normal journalistic work in China?"

During his ill-fated interview on Aug. 1, Sun criticized the Chinese government’s foreign aid and diplomatic strategy in Africa. He also said Chinese authorities had broken into his home to stop his criticism of the government.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has intensified its crackdowns on the free flow of information and academic activity. It has censored academic journals and severely restricted internet usage, even as it has stolen technological secrets from other countries.

According to VOA, Feng could be heard on the phone responding to Chinese police as they detained him:

"Where are you taking me?" Feng asked police in a conversation that was overhead on a cell phone call to VOA editors in Washington.

"You will know," an officer responded.

"I need to talk to your leader," Yibing told the officer.

The police then apparently asked Yibing to turn over his equipment.

"This is (US) government property, you cannot take it," Yibing told them, referring to VOA's status as a U.S. government broadcasting entity.

Before the cell phone line went dead, the sound of footsteps could be heard.

"Don’t grab me," Yibing said. "I will go with you."

UPDATE: Tuesday, 2:22 P.M.: This article was updated to show the journalists were released after at least six hours in custody.