A prominent publisher who has voiced support for dissident academic Xu Zhangrun has been detained by Beijing police for allegedly running “an illicit business” along with her husband, their lawyer said on Thursday.
Geng Xiaonan, founder of privately run publishing company Ruiya Books, was taken away by police on Wednesday, according to her lawyer Shang Baojun.
Her husband Qin Zhen, who has run the company with Geng since 2002, was also detained.
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According to Shang, the couple are being held at the Haidian District Detention Centre.
“Police told Qin’s brother that they are suspected of running an illicit business operation,” Shang said, adding that the couple’s family had not yet received an official notice confirming the detention.
Attempts to contact Beijing police on Thursday for verification were not successful and calls to Geng and her company went unanswered.
Geng, 46, is a well-known figure in China’s publishing industry and has been active in organising arts and cultural events for independent artists and academics over the years. A film director by training, she was a producer of the movie River Road, which had its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2014.
In December, she organised a trip with a group of academics – including Xu – to the southwestern city of Chengdu. Xu was later accused by police of soliciting prostitutes during the trip, detained and dismissed as a law professor at Tsinghua University in July for “moral turpitude”. He has denied the charges and hired lawyers to clear his name.
The university also accused him of publishing numerous articles since mid-2018 that “seriously violated” its code of conduct.
Xu, 57, has written a series of articles criticising the authorities in recent years, taking aim at Communist Party leaders over the decision to remove the two-term limit on the presidency – allowing Xi Jinping to remain as president after 2023 – and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Geng was vocal in defending Xu when the well-known law professor was held by police for six days in early July over the prostitution allegation.
Xu said he believed Geng’s support for him was the reason she had been detained.
“The main reason is because Geng has spoken out against the injustice I have suffered and that has upset the authorities,” Xu said. “Geng Xiaonan has spoken out for the suppressed, and it is time for us to speak out for her now,” he added.
A Beijing-based writer who has known the couple for years and requested anonymity for fear of retribution described Geng as “courageous” for speaking out.
“We can’t imagine that she would do anything that was against the law,” he said. “Although she has said that she might be arrested one day, it’s still a shock that this has happened.”
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