World News

A Chinese Activist Was Challenging Xi on Live TV. Police Came to Stop Him.

Posted August 2, 2018 11:15 a.m. EDT

HONG KONG — A well-known critic of the Chinese government was on the phone with a reporter Wednesday night when he was interrupted by Chinese security forces, who barged into his home in the eastern city of Jinan and removed him.

An audiotape of the interview is a revealing snippet of how people who speak up against the Chinese government can find their voices silenced under the government of President Xi Jinping.

Sun Wenguang, a rights activist and retired economics professor at Shandong University who is in his 80s, was appearing live on a Mandarin-language television show for Voice of America, a broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government.

He is heard on the clip saying, “The police are here to interrupt again.”

“Listen to what I say, is it wrong?” he asks. “People are poor. Let’s not throw our money in Africa.”

“The seven, eight of you here,” he says to the officers in the clip, “listen up, throwing money like this is of no good to our country and society.”

Then he grows more alarmed, saying, “What are you doing? What are you doing? Let me tell you, it’s illegal for you to come to my home.”

“I have my freedom of speech!” he adds.

The phone then goes dead.

The host of the program, Bo Xu, said, “This is the status quo of human rights in China.”

Voice of America Mandarin said it had tried to reach Sun after the incident but was unsuccessful.

Sun has a long history of antagonizing the Chinese government, including as one of the original signatories of Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto that was quickly suppressed. That document brought a lengthy prison sentence for one of its authors, Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while jailed and died last year. Sun said his passport application was rejected in 2010 shortly before the Nobel ceremony, which he had planned to attend.

In 2009, Sun said he had been attacked by public security officials while he was visiting a cemetery in Jinan to commemorate the death of Zhao Ziyang, a former prime minister and Communist Party leader who had expressed support for the pro-democracy Tiananmen demonstrations 20 years earlier.

Sun recently wrote an open letter to Xi saying that foreign investment and aid should instead be used to help the people of China. The letter was seen as an attack on the country’s Belt and Road initiative, which seeks to increase China’s economic and political clout abroad.

Critics of Xi’s strongman ways have been emboldened recently by China’s economic headwinds and other troubles, with their criticisms spreading on social media despite government censorship. Last week, a law professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing delivered an unusually fierce denunciation of Xi, urging Chinese lawmakers to reverse their vote in March that abolished the two-term limit on his presidency.

Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for Voice of America, said that the service “is monitoring the situation closely and will provide an update to program viewers once more information becomes available.”