Authorities in the central province of Hunan have detained a prominent rights activist after he helped to publicize the story of Dong Yaoqiong, a woman sent to a psychiatric hospital for splashing ink on a poster of ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping in a Twitter livestream.
Ou Biaofeng was taken away from his home in Hunan’s Zhuzhou city by officers of the Lusong district police department on Dec. 3, who held him under administrative detention for 15 days for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”
“Four state security police came to our home without prior notice and took him away,” his wife Wei Xinxin told RFA. “The fact that he was taken away so suddenly makes me quite worried, because it is a bit different from previous times.”
Ou’s friend Chen Siming said Ou’s detention was linked to his public support for Dong.
“This is an open secret, and the police and state security police know that,” Chen said.
“He was very concerned about [Dong’s recent video] and has been in contact with Dong Yaoqiong on Twitter since then,” he said.
Following her release from the psychiatric hospital, Dong posted a video on Twitter on Nov. 30 saying angrily that she had no mental illness and complaining of being held under long-term surveillance after her release.
Chen said the authorities likely blame Ou for international news coverage of the video, which broke Dong’s public silence following her release.
“[Ou Biaofeng] was the only channel of communication between Dong and the rest of the world,” he said. “Dong would never have gotten that much publicity without him.”
“She also mentions Ou Biaofeng in the video.”
Chen said Ou also has a track record of speaking out on human rights issues, and had been warned by the state security police that he risked a jail term over the cumulative effect of his activities.
A Changsha-based friend of Ou’s who gave only the nickname Rosemary said that Ou remained in detention at the end of the 15-day sentence, and that police have been questioning his friends and fellow activists since his detention, suggesting that they may be building a case against him.
“I know of three or four people [who have been questioned],” Rosemary said. “He was held under 15 days’ administrative detention, but the stability maintenance system kicked into place in other provinces, across the whole country … and people were warned not to follow the case or speak out in support of him.”
“We are worried this 15-day administrative detention is just a pretext [ahead of a criminal case],” she said. “[Other activists] have also had their administrative detentions converted into criminal detention.”
On Tuesday, defense lawyer Zhang Lei was denied permission to meet with Ou, who is being held at the Zhuzhou Detention Center.
“When I was in detention, my friends could meet with me twice a week,” Chen, who accompanied the lawyer, told RFA. “Now the detention center is saying that all meetings are suspended due to the pandemic.”
“Not even lawyers are being allowed to meet with detainees,” he said. “I am pretty worried, given what just happened.”