BEIJING, Tuesday, Dec. 14 - The Chinese police on Monday
afternoon detained three leading intellectuals who have
been critical of the government, apparently stepping up a
campaign to silence public dissent.
Yu Jie and Liu Xiaobo, literary figures, and Zhang Zuhua, a
political theorist, were detained in raids at their homes,
relatives and friends said. Mr. Yu's relatives were handed
a warrant that said he was suspected of "participating in
activities harmful to the state," said his wife, Liu Min.
Friends said Mr. Yu and Mr. Zhang were released Tuesday
morning after police confiscated materials and searched
their computers. The status of Mr. Liu remains uncertain,
and it is not clear whether any of the three will face
The detentions were the latest in a string of arrests and
official harassment of journalists, writers and scholars
who have spoken out against government policies or written
articles or essays that officials have deemed damaging.
Since President Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as China's
military chief in September, leaving Mr. Hu in full command
of China's government, ruling party and army, analysts say
the political environment has become more repressive. The
scope for discussing sensitive topics in the state-run
media has decreased, they said, while the authorities
appear intent on punishing people who violate unwritten
rules about the limits on free speech.
The crackdown could signal an effort by Mr. Hu to dispel
hopes - already greatly diminished - that he would usher in
a period of relative political relaxation when he
consolidated power. Instead, there are signs that he is
seeking to manage state affairs in a more hands-on and less
permissive style than that associated with Mr. Jiang, who
in his later years focused on carrying out broad economic
changes while allowing a degree of media openness.
Political analysts said Mr. Hu had made clear that he
intended to restore discipline to China's increasingly
diverse news media while at least temporarily restricting
space for leading intellectuals to voice freely their views
about politics, economics and media management.
Editors say the Propaganda Department has received a fresh
mandate to micromanage daily news coverage and to ban
coverage of an increasingly long list of sensitive issues,
including broad topics like China's growing social
Mr. Yu and Mr. Liu have been outspoken critics for many
years. Mr. Liu was accused of serving as an organizer of
the Chinese democracy movement in 1989, which ended in the
violent crackdown on dissent in June of that year. He spent
several years in prison in the 1990's.
Three years ago, the two founded a Chinese chapter of the
PEN organization, which defended writers, poets and
journalists persecuted by the government. The men wrote a
series of articles this fall supporting Shi Tao, a poet and
journalist based in Hunan. Mr. Shi was arrested recently
and accused of leaking state secrets, apparently while
working as a reporter in Shanghai.
PEN, which operates without official support, convened an
award ceremony in late October to honor Zhang Yihe, the
author of a memoir about the repressive "antirightist"
political campaign in the late 1950's. The book was banned.
Zhang Zuhua, the political theorist, is an associate of Mr.
Yu and Mr. Liu who attended the award ceremony, friends
Liu Min, Mr. Yu's wife, said in a brief telephone
conversation on Monday evening that her apartment building
was surrounded by uniformed policemen. The telephone line
to her home was cut in the middle of a conversation with a
The detentions appear to be part of a pattern.
Jiao Guobiao, a journalism professor at Beijing University
who wrote a scathing criticism of the Propaganda Department
earlier this year, was stripped of his teaching
responsibilities recently. Wang Guangze, an editor at the
state-run 21st Century Business Herald, was fired after
returning from a speaking engagement in the United States
last month. There, he had discussed how the Internet was
affecting China's politics.
In September, the authorities arrested Zhao Yan, a local
journalist who worked for the New York Times bureau in
Beijing, on charges of providing state secrets to
foreigners. Some of Mr. Zhao's friends say they believe
that State Security officials are seeking to tie Mr. Zhao
to an article published in The Times that reported an offer
by Mr. Jiang to retire two weeks before the leadership
change was announced.
"The steps the authorities have taken are not by
coincidence," said an editor at a major state-run newspaper
who asked not to be identified. "This is a new era, but
right now we're moving backward."
Christopher Buckley contributed reporting for this article.