Two Chinese activists whose writings frequently criticized the ruling Communist Party were released Tuesday after being detained overnight by police in what appears to be the latest in official efforts to tighten control over public dissent.
Yu Jie (search) and Liu Xiaobo said they were taken from their Beijing homes on Monday evening and questioned about essays they had written.
Liu Qing, president of the New York-based group Human Rights in China (search), said police told him the pair were detained for "jeopardizing national security."
Liu Xiaobo said a group of police officers arrived at about 5 p.m. and took him to a nearby police station where they questioned him for nine hours before releasing him.
"I wasn't beaten or anything," Liu said in a telephone interview. "They asked me about the essays I had written."
Yu said he was detained at 6 p.m. on Monday and questioned through the night. He said he was let go at about 8 a.m. on Tuesday.
"They just kept asking me about my overseas essays, which they said were against the government and against the law," Yu said when called at his home.
Both calls were disconnected within seconds, often a sign that authorities are monitoring telephone lines.
At least five officers searched Liu's home before taking him and his wife away, said Liu Qing, who is no relation to Liu Xiaobo. It was not immediately clear whether she was released.
Telephone calls to Beijing's police headquarters were not answered.
Ren Wanding, a democracy activist, said another intellectual, former Communist Youth League official Zhang Zuhua, had also been detained, but did not have any details on his case. Liu Qing said he had no information about Zhang.
The Chinese government regularly uses vaguely worded anti-subversion laws to detain citizens who challenge its monopoly on power — whether in essays posted on the Internet or through public demonstrations.
Those who are released are usually closely monitored, with their telephones tapped and their movements watched.
"Ever since (President) Hu Jintao (search) came into power, the government has become more strict and more repressive," said Liu Qing. "Prison sentences for people questioning the government have become much longer."
Liu Xiaobo is well-known for his essays criticizing the government for charging Internet dissidents with subversion. He is chairman of the Chinese chapter of International PEN, a group which defends writers which are harassed, imprisoned or killed for their views.
A literary critic and author, Liu returned to China from abroad at the height of the student-led democracy protests that swept Beijing and other Chinese cities in 1989. He led a hunger strike among intellectuals in support of the students and later served 18 months in prison for his activities.
Yu, a former student at the prestigious Peking University, was dismissed from his job because he wrote articles criticizing the government. He gained prominence by posting his works on the Internet and is also a member of the Chinese International PEN chapter.
This year, Liu, Yu and Zhang were among dozens of activists who signed a letter urging the Chinese government to concede it made mistakes in crushing the 1989 Tiananmen protests.
Liu was also briefly detained in June, ahead of the 15-year anniversary of the bloody crackdown.
Also Tuesday, Human Rights in China called on Thai authorities to not repatriate a Chinese democracy activist who went there last month and met with other activists.
Thai authorities said he is also seeking refugee status from the United Nations but could not provide any more details. Bernard Kuah, acting Southeast Asia representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok, said the agency was aware of Lu Decheng's case but would not give any details of his whereabouts.
Lu Decheng served 10 years in prison after he and two others were caught throwing paint and paint-filled eggs on a portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Thai authorities have told Lu he will be sent back to China on Wednesday, HRIC said.