A Chinese journalist who covered democracy protests in Hong Kong has been detained after returning to the mainland, sources with direct knowledge of the situation told AFP on Thursday.

Huang Xueqin, who became known for her support of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment in China last year, had travelled to Hong Kong this summer.

sophia huang
Huang took a series of photos of herself with the hashtag #Metoo and posted them on social media. Photo: Sophia Huang.

She had written at least two reports about the protests that have plunged the semi-autonomous city into crisis for nearly five months.

When Huang returned to the mainland, authorities in the southeastern city of Guangzhou summoned her to a meeting and confiscated her travel documents, the sources said.

Then, Huang was told she could go and collect her documents on October 17.

Instead, the sources said she was arrested under the charge of “making trouble and picking quarrels” – a vague accusation often levelled against critics of the mainland government.

The detention centre in Guangzhou referred questions to city police, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Huang’s lawyer and friend, Wan Miaoyan, declined to comment on the case.

October 20 mask ban china extradition protest
Photo: Studio Incendo.

Huang had intended to start a law graduate programme at Hong Kong University in September, but was unable to do so without her documents, according to the sources.

In one of the essays by Huang about the protests, she wrote about “resisting tyranny” and said “tyranny may win power over the population, but cannot win power over human hearts”.

China has run Hong Kong under a special “one country, two systems” model, which allows the city liberties not seen on the mainland, since the financial hub’s handover from the British in 1997.

But public anger has been building for years over fears that Beijing has begun eroding those freedoms, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

‘Authorities are afraid’

Huang, who published her essays on Matters, a Hong Kong-based online platform similar to Medium, said in a comment on another piece that police had harassed her family in the mainland on June 11.

october 20 kowloon
Photo: May James/HKFP.

Yaqiu Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who knows Huang personally, also said on Thursday that Huang had been detained, without specifying how she had obtained the information.

Wang worried the independent journalist would face harsh punishment.

She told AFP the mainland authorities had stepped up their harassment and detention of people who expressed support for Hong Kong’s ongoing protests.

The protests were initially sparked by opposition to a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions of criminal suspects to mainland China.

They quickly snowballed into a wider anti-government movement after Beijing and local leaders in Hong Kong took a hard line.

In a report published by Human Rights Watch on October 3, Wang documented six arrests since protests broke out in June.

October 1 national day march Cuaseway Bay Wan Chai Admiralty protest
Photo: Aidan Marzo/HKFP.

She said she has heard of more cases since the report was published.

“The Chinese authorities are afraid that protests in Hong Kong could inspire challenges to the government in the mainland,” Wang said.

Huang was among a small group of academics and journalists who popularised China’s version of the #MeToo movement in 2018.

She wrote on social media about her experience of workplace sexual harassment as a young journalist at a Chinese news agency.

Huang also created an online poll asking other female journalists about their experiences of harassment, the Washington Post reported.

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