Independent Filmmaker and Journalist Who Chronicled China Rights Abuses Detained

Chinese authorities have detained independent filmmaker and journalist Du Bin, who has recently worked on material critical of communism and the Chinese regime, according to his family, friends and human rights organizations.

Du, 48, was detained by police in Beijing last Wednesday, says his sister Du Jirong, according to reports. Officers returned the next day to say that he had been put in administrative detention for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” — a broad, vague charge that is frequently invoked against dissidents and activists speaking up on politically sensitive issues.

Du had previously worked as a freelance photographer for the New York Times and local Chinese publications, with his work also appearing in international publications such as Time Magazine and the International Herald Tribune. He often posted political commentary on his personal social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter, which are both blocked in China.

Du is featured in the film “Lost Course,” which last month won the prize for best documentary at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards. Directed by Hong Konger Jill Li, it chronicles a key 2011 anti-corruption uprising in the southern Chinese village of Wukan that made the place a symbol of resistance.

His detention may have ties to his recent work, sources say. Du had recently completed a book critical of Lenin’s thoughts on communism, set to publish in Taiwan on Jan.1. In 2017, he published a historical book in Taiwan that recounted a 1948 communist blockade of rival Nationalist forces that left more than 150,000 civilians dead.

“Du Bin’s books were and will not even be published inside the country, but the Chinese Communist Party can’t tolerate anyone living under its rule to dare to speak their mind,” said Human Rights Watch China researcher Wang Yaqiu.

“Despite all its bravado on the international stage recently, the detention of Du Bin reveals a simple truth: the Communist Party is deeply fearful of those individuals in no position of power who try to expose the Party’s abysmal human rights record, now and in the past.”

This detention is not Du’s first run-in with the Chinese authorities.

He was detained for 37 days in 2013, not long after he published a 600-page book called “Tiananmen Massacre,” and released the hour-long documentary he directed called “Above the Ghosts’ Head: The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp.”

It records the personal testimonies of Liu Hua, a farmer in her 50s who spent three years in that Liaoning province camp after local officials retaliated against her for trying to expose their corruption. Du captures her reading from the diary pages she kept while incarcerated — smuggled out, she says, via women’s vaginal cavities — which describe the brutal torture she and other prisoners suffered. “The Chinese labor camp system is the most evil system in this world, an insult to humankind,” Liu says at the start, explaining in graphic detail how inmates were treated as “slaves and hostages.”

In the years since the film’s release, Du has been visited numerous times by Chinese officers asking him to stop publishing politically critical material online, according to reports.

“Du Bin has been an important actor in documenting some of China’s most notorious human rights abuses and historical incidents in recent years. No one should ever be detained for their photography, their historical research, or for sharing their views on social media. He should be released immediately,” said William Nee, the Hong Kong-based human rights strategy advisor for Amnesty International.

A call from Variety to the local Beijing public security bureau of the district where Du is likely being held was answered by a staffer who said he had no information on the case and hung up.

The Committee to Protect Journalists found in a Dec. 1 report that China imprisoned at least 47 journalist in 2020, making it the top jailer of media professionals for the second year in a row.

“By arresting Du Bin, China is only adding to its sorry record as the world’s worst jailer of journalists. Du should be freed at once, and authorities should stop detaining members of the press,” said Steven Butler, the organization’s Washington, D.C.-based Asia program coordinator.

China has recently ramped up its arrests of local and foreign nationals working in the media within its borders.

On Dec. 11, Bloomberg News staffer Haze Fan was taken from her home in Beijing by plainclothes officers on “suspicion of engaging in activities that jeopardize national security.” Fan, a Chinese citizen, was a veteran of numerous major Western media outlets, including CNBC, CBS News, Al Jazeera and Reuters.

In late August, Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who worked as a high-profile anchor for the Chinese state-run broadcaster’s English news service CGTN, was also charged with national security crimes. She remains imprisoned in China.