28-year-old activist Kwon Pyong has been detained in Jilin, China after he shared plans to wear a t-shirt with messages expressing sentiments against Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Friends have been unable to contact Kwon Pyong – who is ethnically Korean and previously studied abroad in the US – for a month. He previously told a friend that he was planning to wear a t-shirt with anti-Xi messages on the street on October 1, China’s National Day.
His friend, named Gu Yi, who is a student studying abroad in the US, said he received a message from Kwon that said “something [bad] happened” on September 30. Gu has been unable to contact him since. An officer at the Yanji police department confirmed to US-backed Radio Free Asia that Kwon is currently in police custody. Officers at the same police department that answered the phone were unable to confirm Quan’s detention with HKFP.
Gu said that Kwon was previously called in to talk with state security police after he sent postcards to detained human rights lawyers.
“But then he told me on Sept. 30 that he planned to walk around in that T-shirt. I told him not to do it, but he insisted,” Gu told RFA. “We didn’t think he would run into trouble because he had worn that kind of t-shirt before.”
Kwon actively tweeted about topics including China’s crackdown on lawyers, the Tiananmen massacre, Tibet, Hong Kong independence, human rights, and other sentiments opposing the Chinese government.
At the end of August, Kwon posted a picture of himself with the t-shirt on Twitter, saying that “Xitler” was inspired by a tweet from former Tiananmen Square student leader and activist Rose Tang. Below “Xitler” are Chinese phrases saying “Xi Baozi” [steamed buns] and “Big Spender” – both pejorative terms referring to the Chinese leader.
“He’s one of a very small number of young Chinese who have been outspoken in criticising the Chinese government on Twitter using their real names. Beijing has been cracking down on Chinese Twitter users for a number of years but his case signals a new wave of crackdowns on young Twitter users in its attempts to diminish the rare and sparse sparks of a pro-democracy and human rights movement which has been stymied since Xi Jinping took office,” Tang said.
US-based group the Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS) issued a statement condemning the detainment and calling for Kwon’s release.
Gu is helping to organise people around the world to wear t-shirts resembling Kwon’s and protest outside Chinese consulates and embassies around the world.