The blogger behind one nominee in the Best of Blogs competition which concluded earlier this month had his house searched earlier today and his computer hard drive confiscated. Zhai Minglei, based in Shanghai, had in recent years left his job at one of China's most widely-read liberal publications, Southern Weekly, to head up the grassroots culture magazine Minjian, affiliated with China's highly-ranked Sun Yat-sen University.
When the magazine was shut down earlier this summer, as its managing editor, Zhai resurrected it online in the eponymous blog which received the BoB nomination. Over the past month, Zhai has refocused his full-time efforts to his citizen reporter blog, One Man's Newspaper, at 1bao.org [zh].
In an urgent post [zh] on 1bao this morning, Zhai writes:
At just after 10 this morning, on November 29, 2007, five people from the Shanghai Municipality Cultural Market Administrative Enforcement Squad (three men, two women) suddenly showed up at my home. Three of them produced identification, two did not, and they proceeded to search through every room and every corner of my house. Even the paper in my printer was confiscated, along with my last remaining copies of the forty-one issues of Minjian. At the same time, they demanded to search my home computer. They searched through files on the computer, and even removed the hard drive which they took with them. The reason they gave was my involvement in work on the illegal publication Minjian.
I told them:
1. Minjian is internal material pertaining to the Civil Society Center at Sun Yat-sen University, and not something I have published privately.
2. Minjian is non-profit.
3. Minjian contains nothing pornographic reactionary or related to religious minorities.
I respectfully asked them to work appropriately and in good faith as they carry out their work.
As they left, they told me that on the afternoon of the 30th, tomorrow, I am scheduled to undergo an investigation.
This is most likely connected to the notice I posted online informing readers of Minjian‘s closure [zh], and I am prepared for the worst. This is the price to be paid in struggling for freedom of speech and media freedom.
Fortunately, I was able to express myself fully in [zh] the online notice, and it is also my formal statement in this matter: the shutting down of Minjian was illegal, a violation of academic freedom, of freedom of the press, and of media freedom in general.
Zhai signs off in a solemn, but carefully-worded tone; Minjian translates to ‘the civil,’ or ‘that among the people':
Pass this news on to as many readers as possible, tell them to take proper care of Minjian, to appeal on behalf of Minjian.
November 29, 2007
The seizure of Zhai's computer hard drive comes just weeks after a USD 5,350 fine and sentence of five years in prison was handed down to a lawyer at the forefront of China's civil rights movement for distributing from his house a book he wrote which exposed a major corruption scandal.
[…] We believe that everyone who has read the magazine will agree that Minjian has no financial or political ambitions but is driven by its belief in the principles of civil society and social justice and that the people have the power to change their lives.
Needless to say, such idealism may seem suspicious in a pragmatist society in which any principled belief is suspiciously eyed. As ideological struggles have historically been a rather dangerous endeavor (google “Cultural Revolution”), the current leadership decided to leave this behind and instead pursue a so-called “harmonious society”.
In a society in which people emphasize their own individual betterment it is hardly surprising that people who expend their energies on issues that do not promise immediate personal reward are suspiciously eyed.
[…] Or, as we suspect, it was Mr. Zhai’s recent open letter […] that has infuriated China’s authorities who traditionally fear those who speak out against injustices. […]