BEIJING – A Beijing activist was detained on a charge of inciting subversion after posting a photo online of China's 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations that were eventually crushed by the military, killing hundreds of people.
It was the first time Bai Dongping, 47, had ever been arrested though he was taken out of Beijing "on holiday" by police or told to stay inside his home during high-profile events such as the Olympics, said his wife, Yang Dan, said by telephone Tuesday.
Bai was taken away Saturday, Yang said, and Beijing police called her Sunday to tell her why. China often uses the vaguely worded charge of subversion to lock up activists who are seen as troublemakers.
"I'm really scared. That's such a strong charge. It's the first time I'd ever heard of such a thing," Yang said.
The arrest comes shortly after a Chinese woman was sentenced to a year in a labor camp for posting a satirical Twitter message about smashing the Japan pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.
It also comes as several Chinese activists have reported increasing harassment after imprisoned author Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October. Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after co-authoring an appeal calling for reforms to China's one-party political system.
Bai was briefly released Saturday before police returned and took him away again. He told his wife they had interrogated him about the Tiananmen photo he posted online.
Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the incident reflected increasing political persecution in China.
"Every year brings a new batch of activists sentenced under charges of 'inciting subversion.' At least this is an acknowledgment that the charges are political," Bequelin said.
Bai first became an activist during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations after joining an illegal workers' union that supported the students leading the protests, according to the U.S.-based ChinaAid Association.
Tanks and troops rolled into Tiananmen Square in Beijing to crush the pro-democracy movement, killing at least hundreds of people in 1989.
More recently, Bai has provided legal assistance to petitioners who come from China's provinces and try to air grievances over corruption and other issues to officials in the central government. He is a member of the recently formed Petitioners and Rights Defenders' Group, which has often reported harassment from police.
His wife said she doesn't know why Bai posted the Tiananmen photo on a popular chat and messaging website. "I don't get involved in his affairs," she said.
Beijing police did not immediately answer questions about his detention.