Chinese government investigation into critical letter sees activists’ family detained

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses strong concern for the safety and security of media workers at an online outlet and the extended harassment against exiled activists following the publication of a letter calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s resignation. The IFJ calls on the government to end its investigation and stop intimidating the staff.

On March 4, a letter calling for President Xi Jinping’s resignation was published on, a state and private sector joint venture online media outlet. The letter, which watching claim was posted by hackers was immediately taken down; however since early March the authorities have conducted an extensive investigation. Since the letter was posted online, several staff members have disappeared for several days, including CEO, Ouyang Hongliang and executive chief editor, Huang Zhijie. 

A journalist told the IFJ: “I do not know the exact reason but it is believe that they have interrogated by the authorities due to the resignation letter. I was told that Ouyang disappeared on March 15, the same day as former editor of Hong Kong-based Initium Media, Gu Jia, who disappeared travelling to Hong Kong from the mainland.”

On March 22, one of’s investors decided to cease financial support of the outlet and suggested to close down the website. The same journalist told the IFJ: “It was suggested by an investor that the authority has the power to force the website to shut down.” It was reported that following the shutting down of the website, has retained 100 employees, with the website currently operating solely through republished reports. It is widely reported that around 20 staff members including the editorial team and IT experts have being interrogated.

Harassment of media workers has extended beyond the staff of Wen Yunchao, an activist in exile in the USA said that his family members still in China have been harassed by authorities. On March 22, Wen’s parents and brother were taken into police custody by Guangdong police and they accused Wen of being involved in the publication of the open letter. Prior to taking Wen’s family into custody, police had been interrogating the family for over two weeks.

While Zhang Ping (also known as Chang Ping), a journalist in exile in Germany, who currently works for Deutsche Welle said that a number of his family members still based in China had been taken into police custody. On March 27, three of Zhang’s siblings were taken into police custody by the Sichuan police during a family function. One of the siblings was released on March 28, however the other two remain in custody. Police have ordered Zhang delete posts he has made saying that police kidnapped his siblings. They have also ordered Zhang to delete his commentaries posted to Deutsche Welle that are critical of the government and cease writing critical commentaries.

The IFJ Asia Pacific office said: “The continued harassment and intimidation of the media workers and their relatives across Chinais having a detrimental impact on press freedom and freedom of expression. The Chinese government needs to immediately end its repressive control of the media.”

The letter calling for President Xi’s resignation was originally published by a ‘loyal communist party member’ on March 3, on a US-based pro-democracy website, The letter criticised President Xi and called his him to resign. Following the publication of the letter, has received a series of cyber-attacks.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

Find the IFJ on Facebook: