BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese writer linked to the investigation of an online petition calling for the Chinese president's resignation has been released, his lawyer confirmed on Saturday.
Jia Jia, who was taken away by police on March 15 from a Beijing airport, on Friday night informed friends in a private social media group of his safety. His lawyer Yan Xin confirmed that Jia was free, had met his wife and — although he was staying in a hotel — could return home any time.
"Thank you, everyone," Jia posted in the social media. "I dare not forget your concerns."
Jia, who has declined media interviews, apparently is part of a high-profile investigation into an anonymous letter that criticized President Xi Jinping's rule and called for him to step down. It briefly appeared on the government-controlled news site Watching.cn in early March.
"We don't think Comrade Xi Jinping has the ability to lead the party and the country into the future. We don't think he's suitable to be the general secretary of the party," said the letter, which was signed by "Loyal Communist Party Members" and dated March 2016.
It went to demand Xi's resignation, criticizing him for consolidating too much power and making wrong decisions that led to China's stock turmoil.
The president of Watching.cn, Li Wanhui, two top editors — including Editor-in-Chief Ouyang Hongliang — and two site technicians have been reported to be out of contact for days and believed to be under investigation.
Nine other technicians working for a technology firm that provides support to the site also are reported missing.
China's State Internet Information Office referred inquiries about the letter and Watching.cn to the ruling Communist Party's propaganda committee for the western region of Xinjiang, which directly supervises the news site, but the propaganda office there claimed no knowledge of the matter.
Li, the president of Watching.cn, also is the chief editor of ts.cn, the news site run by Xinjiang's propaganda office.
Chinese overseas media, quoting inside sources, say the news site is falling apart, but its newsroom in a downtown Beijing office building appeared to be operating normally this week. Its journalists declined to speak to The Associated Press about their editors and the future of the site, which was launched last year to promote Xi's economic plan of "One Belt, One Road." The plan is aimed at increasing China's overseas investment and trade.
Wen Yunchao, a prominent overseas Chinese activist, said he had come under pressure from Chinese authorities to admit his connection to the letter. The New York-based critic said that authorities in his southern Chinese home county of Jiexi have been holding his elderly parents and a younger brother since Tuesday in an apparent act of coercion.
"But I cannot admit things that have nothing to do with me," Wen wrote on his Twitter account.
Calls to the local police were unanswered on Saturday.
On Friday, Amnesty International called on Chinese authorities to stop harassing dissents' family members, saying such unlawful tactics made a mockery of China's claims to respect the rule of law.
Jia's friends believe the writer might have unwittingly implicated himself when he warned Ouyang, a close friend, about the publication of the letter.
Yan said he hoped that Jia's release is proof that his client had nothing to do with the letter.
For several days following Jia's disappearance, there was no word at all about the writer, adding to public anxiety about his whereabouts and raising questions over China's rule of law when authorities failed to account for Jia's situation in a timely manner.
It was only five days later when Yan learned from airport police that Jia was taken away.