As China intensified its clampdown on independent reporting, the authorities detained a journalist who recently worked on books that were critical of Communism and the Chinese Communist Party, the journalist’s friends and family said on Friday.
The journalist, Du Bin, 48, was detained on Wednesday by police officers in Beijing, said his sister, Du Jirong. Police officers told Ms. Du on Thursday that her brother had been placed under administrative detention for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The vaguely worded offense is one that the government often uses to quell activism and discussion of social and political issues.
Friends of Mr. Du, who has worked as a freelance photographer for The New York Times, say they believe his detention may have been connected to several of his recent book projects.
One book, published in Taiwan in 2017, was a historical account of what is known as the “siege of Changchun,” when Communist troops blockaded the northeastern Chinese city in 1948 to starve out their rival Nationalist soldiers, leading to the deaths of at least 160,000 civilians. Another book by Mr. Du, about the more nefarious aspects of Lenin’s experiments with Communism, was scheduled to be published in Taiwan on Jan. 1, 2021.
Liu Hua, a friend of Mr. Du’s, said that writing books had been a small but important source of income for the journalist. She also said that Mr. Du had recently been summoned several times by police officers and told to stop posting about sensitive subjects online.
“It seems as though the words coming out of Du Bin’s pen hurt their feelings,” Ms. Liu said.
Reached by telephone on Friday morning, an employee at the Daxing County police station in Beijing where Mr. Du is believed to be held said he did not know anything about the case and had never heard of Mr. Du.
It is not the first time that Mr. Du’s work has provoked the ire of the authorities in China. In 2013, he was detained for just over a month after releasing a documentary about a Chinese forced labor camp and after publishing a book, “Tiananmen Massacre,” about the government crackdown in 1989 on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing. During his detention, he said at the time, he nearly developed an eye infection because he kept one of his contact lenses on longer than he should have so that he could see and document every detail of his experience in custody.
China was the world’s leading jailer of journalists this year for a second year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press advocacy group, reported in its annual survey released this week.
Several citizen-journalists who were detained in China for their coverage of the pandemic remain under detention. This year, the authorities also expelled a dozen or so foreign journalists, detained a foreign employee of a Chinese state media organization and detained a Chinese staff member for Bloomberg on potential national security violations.
Activists say the dragnet cast by the authorities under Xi Jinping, the country’s hard-line leader, had become so indiscriminate that it was difficult to know where the so-called red line was anymore.
“Xi Jinping has really been scanning the country and sweeping up just about any dissident who is active one way or the other,” said Yaxue Cao, a Chinese activist in the United States.
“Given how little these dissidents are able to do these days and how fragmented and powerless they are,” Ms. Cao said, “it’s amazing how insecure Xi feels while projecting the image of an invincible party.”
Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.