A renegade Chinese professor who was forced off-air while criticising the government says he was locked in his apartment and told to make up a story that he left town

  • Sun Wenguang, an 84-year-old economics professor critical of the Chinese government, says he has been trapped in his own home and forced to say he had gone travelling.
  • Earlier this month, police entered his home and forced him off the phone while he was criticising Xi Jinping in a live interview.
  • Two journalists went to his house on Monday and found Sun unable to get out.
  • Chinese police detained the two journalists after their visit.

A dissident Chinese professor who was forced off the air while criticising his government claims to be locked in his apartment, and that they made him say he had gone travelling.

Sun Wenguang, an 84-year-old retired economics professor, had been attacking China’s expenditure on foreign programs in a live interview earlier this month when police barged into his house and forced him off the airwaves.

He was speaking to journalists from Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin, a Chinese-language outlet funded by the US government. Sun had been unreachable in the days after he was forced off-air.

On Monday evening, two VOA journalists went to visit Sun at his apartment in Jinan, eastern China, and found the professor appeared to be trapped in his own home.

Footage from VOA shows Sun attempting to talk to the journalists through an opening in the locked door. You can see some of his grey hair and part of his ear in the screenshot below:

Sun wenguang trapped in homeThe Voice of America/Twitter

In a video posted by VOA, Sun can also be heard telling the journalists in Chinese:

“I have been locked in at my dwelling by the state security team leader Mr Li. My wife was threatened to make an announcement that we were travelling.

“It wasn’t true at all. We weren’t travelling. …

“We were taken out of our residence for 10 days and stayed at four hotels. Some of the rooms had sealed windows. It was a dark jail. After we were back, they sent four security guys to sleep in our home.”

According to VOA, Sun also said: “Here in China, we have a lack of freedom of press. Authorities have blocked and suppressed press freedom… Why can Chinese reporters act as journalists in the US freely while US reporters cannot do normal journalistic work in China?”

Several policemen interrupted the interview multiple times, with some of them leaving the apartment to argue with the journalists.

After the interview, police also detained the two journalists who had visited him, who were identified by VOA as Feng Yibing and Allen Ai. Feng is a US citizen, while Ai is Chinese, VOA reporter Steve Herman tweeted.

As of Tuesday evening local time, they are still believed to be in police custody.

Watch the episode unfold in the video below.

Sun’s case has captured the attention of Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Chris Smith, who chair the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and are two of the US government’s largest critics of Beijing.

Rubio tweeted last week: “Every time you hear overblown rhetoric about how we are on the verge of ‘tyranny’ or ‘authoritarianism’ in America remember what real tyranny& authoritarianism looks like.”

Sun appeared to acknowledge this, telling the journalists on Monday: “I want to thank [the] American Senators and House of Representatives for paying attention.”

China voa journalist feng yibing sun wenguangThe Voice of America/TwitterVoice of America journalist Feng Yibing outside Sun’s apartment on August 13.

In the interview where he was dragged off the air, Sun was criticising what he described as Xi’s “throw-money diplomacy” – the idea that Beijing is investing in foreign countries to further its own political and economic aims.

Under Xi’s leadership, Beijing has ramped up both foreign direct investments in other countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as encouraged economic partnerships with more than 70 countries across Asia, Europe, and Africa, as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative.

Before the line went dead at the interview, Sun’s last words were: “I have my freedom of speech!”

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