A Chinese artist, Hua Yong, has mysteriously disappeared after documenting and posting videos of mass expulsions of displaced low-income migrant workers from the Chinese capital, according to his friends.
The painter posted several short videos in recent weeks, recording how authorities forced tens of thousands of people out of Beijing and demolished several neighborhoods on the outskirts of the capital.
Hua reportedly fled Beijing and landed at a friend’s home in the northern city of Tianjin in the early hours of Dec. 16.
He was then arrested.
When reached by phone, the police in the Daxing district declined to answer anything about Hua.
“Police grabbed him. Didn’t you know? Nobody is able to contact him,” one of Hua's friends told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Earlier on Friday, Hua posted his apparent last video on Twitter, wishing his daughter happy birthday, because he couldn’t be there for her next.
“Daddy is using these last minutes to sing you a song, ‘Happy birthday to you’ … Daddy wants our country to be better; It should be just, fair, free and democratic with free speech,” Hua said, addressing his 3-year-old daughter.
The video has since been widely shared on the internet.
2017-12-15 ?????? pic.twitter.com/YS0AZ6mrRS— ?? (@HuaYong798) December 15, 2017
According to Ji Feng, a friend of the courageous artist, Hua’s arrest is “confirmed.”
“But we haven’t been able to figure out anything else. We and his family are trying to make contact with him,” he said.
Hua’s documentaries brought the plight of migrant workers into the spotlight, which drew the wrath of the authorities.
“His videos became important evidence about the human rights violations during the evictions,”, said Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International.
“His detention makes him become like a symbol about how grass-roots people are treated by the Chinese government.”
China is notorious for jailing journalists and bloggers who are critical of the communist government.
Hua was imprisoned over speech issues in China previously. In 2012, he was sentenced to 15 months in a labor camp after a performance in Tiananmen Square in which he punched himself in the face, and then used his blood to write the date of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters.
In the videos recorded, Hua expressed his desire to remain in the country rather than leaving it for somewhere where he could speak more freely about political issues.
"The People's Republic of China constitution provides for freedom of speech, freedom of the press," he said.
"All I did was take and post a few videos online. There's nothing wrong with this. So I will stay in China. Even if I die, I die in my country."
Thumbnail Credits: Reuters, Jason Lee