A prominent Chinese Internet activist living in New York says authorities have detained three members of his family in southern China in a push to find the author of an open letter calling for the resignation of President Xi Jinping.
Wen Yunchao said Friday that his parents and younger brother had been missing since Tuesday, days after he said the government harassed his family over his suspected role in circulating the letter. Wen, a vocal critic of Beijing, has denied involvement in the letter, saying he linked to it on his Twitter account only after it had been published in China.
The open letter was posted by Wujie News on March 4, the first day of annual meetings of top Chinese officials. In it, Xi is blamed for "unprecedented problems" in China, with calls for him to step down immediately.
A second Chinese reporter, freelance writer Jia Jia, was reported to have been taken into custody Tuesday at an airport in Beijing as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong. His lawyer told Western news agencies that police "took away" the columnist after he warned other reporters against republishing the letter.
Late Friday, however, the lawyer confirmed that Jia had been released, according to The Associated Press.
Two top editors and two other technicians from the website were also reported in custody.
Authorities still looking
Analysts said the widening police probe suggested that investigators had not yet pinpointed the source of the letter and were under pressure to do so.
The letter was signed by "Loyal Communist Party Members" and was widely circulated by email.
Analysts said Wujie, which began operations in September 2015, was designed to report on Xi's economic plan to increase Chinese investment and trade in Asia and Europe.
Academic Qiao Mu, from Beijing's Foreign Studies University, told The New York Times that Wujie's future and that of its 100 employees remained uncertain.
Xi has mounted a widespread effort to censor Internet coverage in China to eliminate opinions that differ from those of Communist Party leaders. The crackdown has resulted in harsher penalties for those writers and editors found to have spread what the government calls rumors.