“They are here!!!!!” This was the last message posted on Hua Yong’s Twitter feed shortly before police took him away in Tianjin, a city in northeastern China, on Friday.
He was detained on suspicion of, “gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic.” Hua, 48, a well-known painter in Beijing, had fled to Tianjin to escape the police who were seeking him for filming forced evictions of migrants in Beijing. In one of the last videos Hua recorded, police can be heard banging on his door, ordering him to open it.
Hua was released on bail three days later, but he could still face criminal charges.
Since mid-November, after a fire in an overcrowded and unsafe apartment building in Beijing killed 19 people, Beijing authorities have launched a campaign to clear out tenants from buildings on the city’s outskirts that did not meet the safety code. While moving people from such premises may have been necessary, the authorities should not have evicted tens of thousands of migrant workers with little or no notice. At first, photos of evicted migrant workers in Beijing’s bitter weather, clutching their belongings, went viral on the internet, causing a public outcry. But authorities soon censored media coverage of the event. Nevertheless, Hua documented the evictions, posting on YouTube and other websites dozens of videos he shot using his cell phone.
Chinese activists, human rights lawyers, and those who speak critically of the government have come to expect the police arriving at their door to take them into custody, search their belongings, or just to harass them. One night in August 2015, Tianjin police ransacked defense lawyer Li Chunfu’s home and arrested him. Terrified, Li’s 5-year-old son said to his mother, “Daddy was handcuffed away.” To comfort him, Li’s wife said the handcuffs were “a toy.” “That wasn’t a toy,” Li’s son retorted.
Despite living in expectation of the loud knock on the door, China’s human rights activists, lawyers, and writers persist. In one of his videos, Hua addresses his daughter: “Everything Dad did was for your generation, so you wouldn't have to experience what your fathers and grandfathers have experienced.”