Filmmaker Du Bin Detained in Beijing

Du Bin, a documentary filmmaker, photographer and author based in Beijing, disappeared on May 31 and is being held under criminal detention. Du, who worked as a freelance photographer for the New York Times, directed documentary films, including one about a forced labor camp called Masanjia. He also published books, and released one this May called “Tiananmen Massacre.” Authorities have not yet officially notified his family of charges against him, though friends and family suspect his detention is related to his work. After his disappearance, friends found an unsigned police warrant at his house issued for “disturbing order at a public place.” From the South China Morning Post:

The 41-year-old reporter, who had worked as a photographer for the New York Times, has not communicated with his family since the evening of May 31, his younger sister Du Jirong told the South China Morning Post.

“I don’t know where he is,” Du said. “Online, people say that he is in jail in [Beijing's] Fengtai district. He must be miserable, he has never been to jail.”

Relatives found a summons order by the Fengtai Public Security Bureau in his deserted home, Du Jirong said. The bureau has yet to reply to her multiple requests for information on his whereabouts. [Source]

The New York Times has more on the details of his detention:

Two copies of an unsigned police warrant dated June 1 found recently by friends in the apartment of the journalist, Du Bin, said that it had been issued for “disturbing order at a public place.” That falls under an administrative statute the police can use to hold people for up to 15 days for minor offenses, said Jerome A. Cohen, a scholar of Chinese law at New York University.

The police could release the detainee during that period, move that person to China’s “re-education through labor” system, or seek a formal criminal charge, Mr. Cohen said.

One friend of Mr. Du said he had heard that the police were investigating the journalist, who is 41, for illegal business activity related to his books, many of which are on politically delicate subjects. It is a charge that officials have used before against Chinese journalists writing books on such subjects even when, as with Mr. Du, the books have been published outside mainland China. [Source]

Du’s “Tiananmen Massacre” book was published by Mirror Books, based in Hong Kong and New York. China Change quotes a previous interview with Du in which he explains his motivations for producing the book, which includes accounts of the June 4th, 1989 military crackdown on protesters:

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Du Bin said, “Living in mainland China, you live in insecurity everyday whether you speak the truth or not…One should go ahead, do what one needs to do…With [The Tian’anmen Massacre], I want more people to know that there once were people who embraced death for the sake of democracy and freedom, and we should be proud of them.”

Du’s documentary, The Women of Masanjia Labour Camp, can be seen with English subtitles below. The labor camp came into the public spotlight in April, when Lens Magazine published a report about alleged torture at the camp, which held Falun Gong practitioners and others. Soon after, the Central Propaganda Department issued a directive banning any coverage of or comment on the report.

Masanjia produced toys for export, and first made international news when a woman in Oregon found a letter in a box of Halloween decorations appealing to the “World Human Rights Organization” for help. Recently, a former detainee at the camp claimed to have written the letter. From the New York Times:

[..T]he letter writer remained a mystery, the subject of speculation over whether he or she was a real inmate or a creative activist simply trying to draw attention to the issue.

Last month, though, during an interview to discuss China’s labor camps, a 47-year-old former inmate at the Masanjia camp said he was the letter’s author. The man, a Beijing resident and adherent of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual practice, said it was one of 20 such letters he secretly wrote over the course of two years. He then stashed them inside products whose English-language packaging, he said, made it likely they were destined for the West.

“For a long time I would fantasize about some of the letters being discovered overseas, but over time I just gave up hope and forgot about them,” said the man, who asked that only his surname, Zhang, be published for fear of reprisal.

He knew well the practices of the camp in question, which was corroborated by other inmates, and he spoke as other inmates did of their work preparing mock tombstones. His handwriting and modest knowledge of English matched those of the letter, although it was impossible to know for sure whether there were perhaps other letter writers, one of whose messages might have reached Oregon. [Source]