Documentary Filmaker & Blogger Imprisoned in China

Written by James MacGregor on . Posted in Documentary

Reporters Without Borders wrote to President Hu Jintao today asking him to intervene on behalf of documentary filmmaker Hao Wu, who was arrested in Beijing on 22 February after attending a meeting of members of a protestant church not recognised by the government as part of the preparation of his next documentary.

Hao, who lived for more than 10 years in the United States, is a contributor to Global Voices, a bloggers association that belongs to the Reporters Without Borders network of partner organisations.

"Hao’s only crime has been to do his job as journalist in an independent manner," Reporters Without Borders said in its letter to President Hu. The organisation also called on US diplomats to raise Hao’s case with the Chinese authorities, above all as part of the preparations for Hu’s visit to the United States next month.

Hao was detained by the Beijing division of the State Security Bureau, which has officially confirmed his arrest. Two days after his arrest, police raided his home, seizing videotapes and editing equipment. He has not been charges and the authorities have not explained why they are holding him. Global Voices said they authorities could be trying to get him to provide information about China’s underground Christian churches.

Hao’s family, which appears to be in contact with him, initially refused to publicise his arrest, hoping that he would be freed quickly. This is why the news of his arrest has taken a month to emerge.

In a blog called Beijing or Bust named after one of his documentaries, Hao writes under the pseudonym of "Beijing Loafer." As it is filtered by the authorities, he established a "mirror" site on another blog tool. He is also a contributor to Global Voices, writing in English under the pseudonym of Tian Yi, and he is its North-East Asia editor.

Global Voices has set up a support site for Hao : http://ethanzuckerman.com/haowu

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok, London, Moscow, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

The reason for Hao’s detention is unknown. One of the possibilities is that the authorities who detained Hao want to use him and his video footage to prosecute members of China’s underground Churches. Hao is an extremely principled individual, who his friends and family believe will resist such a plan. Therefore, we are very concerned about his mental and physical well-being.

More about Hao: From Scientist to Computer Guy to Filmmaker.

Hao began his filmmaking career in 2004, when he gave up his job as a senior product manager at Atlanta-based Earthlink Inc. and returned to China to film Beijing or Bust, a collage of interviews with U.S.-born ethnic Chinese who now live in China’s capital city. Before working for Earthlink, Hao worked as a product manager for Internet portal Excite from 2000 to 2001 in Redwood City, CA Before that, Hao had also worked as a strategic planning and product development director for Merchant Internet Group, an intern for American Express Co. and a molecular biologist with UCB Research Inc.

Hao earned an MBA degree from University of Michigan Business School in May 2000 and a Master of Science in molecular and cell biology in July, 1995 from Brandeis University, where he was awarded a full merit-based scholarship. Before studying in the U.S., Hao earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the China University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui province in June, 1992.

Hao the Blogger.

Hao has also been an active blogger, writing as “Beijing Loafer” on his personal blog, Beijing or Bust, named after his film. Due to Chinese government internet blocking of his blog hosting service Blogger.com, he also has a mirror version of the site on MSN Spaces. In early February Hao began contributing as Northeast Asia Editor to Global Voices Online, an international bloggers’ network hosted at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Writing under the pen name Tian Yi, Hao’s contributions aimed to bring citizens’ online voices from China and the rest of North East Asia to readers in the English-speaking world.

Why didn’t we speak out about his detention earlier?

Hao’s family and friends in China have deflected questions about his detention for the past month, as authorities in contact with people close to Hao have urged them not to publicize the case. There had been hope that his detention was only for a short period of time, in which case publicity would not have been helpful. 

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