Chinese Filmmaker Charged Over Documentary on Protest Movement: Reports

Chinese activist filmmaker Chen Pinlin has been formally charged in Shanghai with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to human rights NGOs and media sources in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based NGO, said on Thursday that on Jan. 5 police in Shanghai arrested Chen, who produced and released a film called “Not the Foreign Force” in English and “Urumqi Road” in Chinese, in November. Chen, who also uses the name Plato, has been held at the Baoshan Detention Center ever since and was charged on Feb. 18.

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The offence of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” is a broadly defined crime often used against activists, lawyers and media workers.

Chen’s film was about the protest movement that became known as white paper movement and was released on YouTube and X (formerly Twitter) on the first anniversary of the movement’s emergence.

The protests began in November 2022 after an apartment building in Xinjiang caught fire and killed at least ten people. There were questions whether China’s strict anti-COVID lockdown measures prevented the victims from escaping or the rescue workers accessing the property.

The protests were calculated to be the largest public demonstrations in many years in mainland China. But, even though many protestors were careful to only hold up sheets of blank paper and avoided directly criticizing the central or provincial governments, their acts were construed as criticism of the state and its censorship system. Many people were reported to have been arrested in Shanghai, but the exact number is not known.

Attention to the White Paper Movement is believed to be partly responsible for charges against another filmmaker late last year. Chinese authorities banned artist and film director Guo Zhenming from traveling to Singapore for the world premiere of his documentary film “Tedious Days and Nights.”

The film was scheduled to play at the Singapore International Film Festival on Dec. 4 in the festival’s Standpoint strand. The screening went ahead without him.

Details of Chen’s charges have not been confirmed by mainland Chinese authorities. But they have been reported from media outside the mainland including the Hong Kong Free Press and Chinese-language human rights news websites Minsheng Guancha and Weiquanwang.

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