Gu Guoping’s detention comes as the CCP’s propaganda and censorship machine erases all sign of the protest.
Ripples of political dissent continued to appear in China in the wake of the “Bridge Man” protest against ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping, who is on track to sweep aside term limits and rule for at least another five years at the ongoing party congress in Beijing.
Shanghai-based retired teacher Gu Guoping, 67, was incommunicado, believed detained, on Oct. 16, with repeated calls from RFA to his cell phone and social media accounts going unanswered.
The rights group Weiquanwang said officers from Shanghai’s Zhoujiaqiao police station under the Changning district police department detained Gu at a friend’s house after threatening to use “coercive measures.”
Police said they were planning to take both Guo and his friend to Lingang, a “ghost city” on the coast near Shanghai once touted as its answer to Silicon Valley.
China’s state security police frequently use enforced “vacations” to silence government critics during important political events like the 20th National Congress.
However, incommunicado detention can sometimes morph into “residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL),” allowing the authorities to hold someone for up to six months with no legal representation or family visits, a practice rights groups say is linked to increased risk of torture and ill-treatment.
Gu’s wife, who declined to be named, said she hasn’t been able to reach her husband since Sunday.
“He called me back yesterday to say that he was now in Lingang,” she said. “They are sharing a room.”
“I haven’t yet received any notification of administrative or criminal detention,” she said. “I’m just waiting.”
Gu’s detention came after he retweeted photos and video of a rare public anti-Xi protest on the Sitong traffic overpass in Beijing’s Haidian district on the eve of the party congress.
A protester who hung two protest banners–one of which called for Xi’s removal — was seen in a video being put into a police car.
While RFA has been unable to confirm the identity of the protester independently, content posted earlier to Peng’s social media accounts was consistent with the tone of his banners, one of which read “Remove the traitor-dictator Xi Jinping!”
Video and photos of which were quickly posted to social media, only to be deleted, while keywords and accounts linked to the protest were rapidly deleted from China’s tightly controlled social media platforms, as the ruling party’s well-oiled censorship machine swung into action.
Searches for “Haidian,” the district where the banners appeared, and “hero” were all blocked by Friday, amid reports that social media users who talked about the incident were getting their accounts shut down.
Gu had reposted some of the content to his Twitter account. While Twitter is banned in China, the authorities still track and observe content posted about China, with police often seeking out account-holders in mainland China for warnings or punishment.
Gu’s wife said she has concerns over his health, with “very bad” recent scan results suggesting he has cancer, along with an existing diagnosis of diabetes.
Repeated calls to the Zhoujiaqiao police station rang unanswered on Monday.
Unconfirmed social media reports have named the Sitong flyover protester, dubbed “Bridge Man,” as Peng Lifa, who uses the handle Peng Zaizhou on social media.
Peng’s social media accounts are a likely reference to an ancient essay describing the people as the water that holds up the boat of government, and might overturn it if they are unhappy with its rule.
“Peng Lifa made some very severe accusations against Xi Jinping and the Chinese central government in those slogans,” rights activist Patrick Poon, currently a visiting researcher in comparative law at Japan’s Meiji University, told RFA.
“Under Xi Jinping’s ongoing totalitarian regime, [Gu] could be held under criminal detention or even secretly detained.”
“[Under] RSDL, he could be tortured or treated inhumanely at a place where his lawyers and family can’t find him,” Poon said. “His situation is very worrying.”
“The authorities could charge him with serious crimes like incitement to subvert state power, or subversion of state power,” he said.
A number of posters mimicking early CCP propaganda art but containing the text of Peng’s slogans have been circulating online, according to the U.S.-based China Digital Times website.
Several of the posters quote the Sitong bridge banners in their entirety, calling in block red letters for “Food, not PCR tests. Freedom, not lockdowns. Reforms, not the Cultural Revolution. Elections not leaders.”