Chinese Government Critic Arrested in His Own Home During Live TV Interview: Report

"I have my freedom of speech," the retired professor told police. Then, the phone line went dead.



A retired Chinese professor was doing a live TV interview via telephone yesterday when police reportedly entered his home and arrested him.

Wenguang Sun, who used to teach at Shandong University, has been a harsh critic of Chinese President Xi Jinping's government. During a panel discussion yesterday on a Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin show called Issues & Opinions, Sun took issue with how much money China spends on foreign aid to Africa. The government should use those funds to help its own people instead, he said.

A recording from VOA, which is funded by the U.S. government, reveals what transpires next:

"Here they come again. The police are here to interrupt again," Sun says in Chinese, according to VOA's translation. He then addresses the police officers directly. "Did I say anything wrong? Listen to what I say—is it wrong? People are poor. Let's not throw our money in Africa….Throwing away money like this is of no good to our country and society."

Sun raises his voice as he appears to grow more concerned. 'What are you doing? What are you doing?" he asks police. "Let me tell you, it's illegal for you to come to my home. I have my freedom of speech." At that point, the phone line goes dead. According to VOA News, sources in China's Shandong province, where Sun lives, say he was placed under house arrest.

While "Sun was on a live telephone interview from his home, he reported to the VOA anchor that local police had forcibly entered his residence and demanded he end the interview," VOA spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said in a statement. "When professor Sun refused, the phone line went dead on live television. Subsequent efforts by VOA to re-engage with him for this interview have been unsuccessful."

Sun's apparent arrest came not long after he penned an open letter urging Xi to rethink China's foreign aid practices. It's not the first time he's voiced disagreement with his government. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Sun has a long history of antagonizing the Chinese government, including as one of the original signatories of Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto that was quickly suppressed. That document brought a lengthy prison sentence for one of its authors, Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while jailed and died last year. Mr. Sun said his passport application was rejected in 2010 shortly before the Nobel ceremony, which he had planned to attend.

It's not terribly surprising that the Chinese government is silencing critics like Sun. The nonprofit group Reporters Without Borders ranks China 176th out of 180 countries in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index. According to the group, "members of the public can now be jailed for the comments on a news item that they post on a social network or messaging service or even just for sharing content."