China has detained three prominent intellectuals who criticized the government, sources said yesterday, in what some believe reflects a new crackdown on freedom of expression.
Writer Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) said he was under virtual house arrest after police released him in the early hours yesterday.
Police stood guard outside his home, confiscated his computer and ordered him not to write, Liu told reporters by telephone.
"It's because of my articles," he said.
The police also arrested 31-year-old writer Yu Jie (余杰) and Zhang Zuhua, 48, on Monday, releasing them yesterday, a lawyer familiar with the arrests said.
"They only wrote something on Web sites, and exercised their freedom of speech," a close friend of Yu and Zhang said.
"They express their views on domestic affairs and sometimes they criticize the authorities," the friend said.
He said the decision to arrest the three men may be part of a campaign following a speech by President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) urging the ruling Communist Party to strengthen its ideological control.
"My feeling is that the situation is going backwards," he said. Such a new campaign against expressions of dissent could lead to the "silencing of China," he said.
Liu, 49, is a literary critic banned from publishing since the democracy movement of 1989. He has been jailed three times but has continued to lead campaigns for greater freedom of speech.
In 2001, Liu and Yu helped set up a Chinese branch of International PEN, a group that exposes political persecution of writers.
Last week, Liu wrote an article condemning the arrest of poet and journalist Shi Tao, apparently because of Internet publications in which Shi had criticized local and central authorities.
Shi was arrested under a law that prohibits the dissemination of state secrets.
"This is a government mechanism to censor and intimidate writers," Liu wrote of the legal framework used to arrest Shi.
"In China, everything that the authorities do not want people to know or talk about falls under the category of state secret."