BEIJING — A former journalist and his wife have been detained by security officers in China after he wrote online last week about five boys in Guizhou Province who died in a trash bin after taking shelter there from the cold, according to a lawyer and a friend of the ex-journalist.
The lawyer, Li Fangping, said in a telephone interview that the ex-journalist, Li Yuanlong, who is not related to the lawyer, was picked up by security officers on Wednesday. The men spoke by telephone while Mr. Li was being driven along a highway to a “resort” in Guizhou in south-central China, the lawyer said Thursday. A friend of Mr. Li’s who edits an online publication said Mr. Li’s wife had been taken too.
Mr. Li, 52, had been a reporter for Bijie Daily, the main newspaper in the city of Bijie, for eight years, but was imprisoned in 2005 for two years because he had written too many “negative” stories about Bijie, the lawyer said. He has been unemployed since his release from prison, the lawyer added.
China runaway reporter forced on plane
THE Chinese journalist who exposed the case of five children found dead in a dumpster has been forced to take an airplane to a destination that has not been revealed, the South China Morning Post reports.
Li Yuanlong, who published the case on the internet that was taken up by the international press, was sent “on vacation”, according to authorities in Bijie, the town where the incident occurred.
Late last week, Mr. Li posted photographs and wrote about the deaths in Bijie of the five boys, who were all related and ranged in age from 9 to 13. The bodies were discovered on Nov. 16 in a rolling trash bin. The local police said the boys appeared to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning after they started a fire with charcoal inside the bin to warm themselves. At least four of the boys had dropped out of school, according to official news reports.
Mr. Li’s posts ignited outrage on the Internet in China. Online users asked scathing questions about how the local government, teachers, family members and society in general could have allowed the boys to end up in such a predicament. Official news organizations, including Xinhua, the state news agency, ran reports on the deaths.
For many Chinese, the plight of the dead children evoked comparisons to the tale of “The Little Match Girl,” a Hans Christian Andersen story of a girl ignored by the rich who froze to death after trying to warm herself with a lighted match. The story was commonly assigned in Chinese schools for many years.
The boys’ parents were migrant workers who had gone off to boom cities seeking jobs, and the boys were being raised in haphazard conditions typical of “left-behind children,” the news reports said. It is common across China for migrant workers to leave children in the care of family members, often grandparents, in their hometowns. Because of a strict residency registration system across China, migrant workers cannot get proper social benefits in the cities in which they work, and their children are often barred from schooling, which gives parents little incentive to bring their children with them.
The lawyer said local officials knew that Mr. Li had more information on the plight of children in Bijie, and so the officials wanted to detain him to keep him away from other reporters. He added that Mr. Li had been documenting the problems faced by children for years.
A person answering the telephone at an office of the Bijie government said the office had no information about Mr. Li. The Web site of the city government has some information on the five dead boys and has a post vowing to protect children and to patrol trash bins. The government also said it would set up a hot line for reporting on cases of street children and send officials to schools to ensure that children are enrolled and attending classes.
Mr. Li’s posts last week came at a particularly delicate time for the Communist Party, which announced a new leadership lineup on Nov. 15. Party leaders have stressed the need to bridge the country’s growing income gap, but many officials still support a growth-at-all-costs strategy.
Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that two school principals and four local officials were fired Monday night for failing to ensure the welfare of the boys in Bijie. Two other officials were suspended from their jobs.
The boys were identified as Tao Zhongjing, 12; Tao Zhonghong, 11; Tao Zhonglin, 13; Tao Chong, 12; and Tao Bo, 9.
Child Deaths Reporter Held
A Chinese newsman is taken away by police after reporting the tragedy of five boys dying in a garbage bin.
A Chinese journalist who broke the story about the shocking death of five runaway boys in a dumpster in the southwestern province of Guizhou has “disappeared” after being forced into a vehicle by police, rights activists said.
Guizhou-based dissident writer Li Yuanlong, who has made a living as a cutting-edge freelance after leaving his job in state-run media, was taken away by police on the afternoon of Nov. 17 after he posted an online report with photographs on the discovery of the bodies of the boys two days earlier.
The news sparked an online outcry and led to the firing or suspension of eight officials and school staff for negligence.
The boys, aged 9 to 13 and all the sons of three brothers, died of carbon monoxide poisoning, apparently after burning charcoal inside the dumpster where they were taking shelter during a cold night in the Qixingguan suburb of Guizhou’s Bijie city.
They were children of migrant parents, many of whom leave their children behind in their home areas due to difficulty in arranging adequate child care and schooling in their new employment areas.
“After Li was taken away by police that same afternoon, the human rights group for which he volunteers was able to reach him by phone, and Li indicated that he was in a police vehicle,” the overseas-based rights group China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in an e-mailed
Li told his fellow activists he was being taken on “vacation,” the group said.
Li has already served a two-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power,” and is often pressured by police to cease his freelance writing on sensitive subjects, CHRD said.
Liu Feiyue, head of the Hubei-based rights group China Rights Observer, said his organization had been the first to publish Li’s story about the children’s deaths online.
“I called Li Yuanlong on Wednesday, and he told me very hurriedly that he was in a police car,” Liu said. “He said ‘I have been vacationed.'”
“The reason for the ‘vacation’ was his report about the five street children who suffocated to death.”
He praised Li for enabling China Rights Observer to be the first to publicize the tragedy. “It was all the work of Li Yuanlong,” he said.
“After that, Li Yuanlong posted this story himself on the KD-net forums and various other places.”
“Then the story became a hot topic.”
Liu said Li had taken great risks in breaking the story.
“Li Yuanlong had always hoped he would be able to go overseas and take care of his son [whose health is poor],” Liu said. “But the Guizhou authorities wouldn’t let him have a passport.”
“They wanted him to stop writing articles and other activities.”
Liu said that while Li had written very little of late, owing to pressure from the government, he had been unable to ignore the story of the five boys’ deaths.
“I asked him if he feared trouble from the authorities, and he replied that it was too cruel, and that he couldn’t worry about so many different things.”
The Guizhou government has taken disciplinary action against eight officials and teachers in connection with the deaths of the boys.
The case threw the spotlight on the plight of migrant parents and families in impoverished rural areas. About 58 million children countrywide lack sufficient supervision or stay in the care of grandparents when their parents seek work in China’s booming cities, reports have said.
Li began his journalistic career as a reporter on the Bijie Daily News, so he was familiar with the city.
However, he was arrested in September 2005 and sentenced nearly a year later to two years’ jail for “incitement to subvert state power” by the city’s Intermediate People’s Court.