The Trump administration says it is concerned about the whereabouts of retired Chinese university professor Sun Wenguang, who has not been heard from since he was detained during a live VOA interview last week.
“We condemn China’s ongoing abuse of human rights, in particular, the suppression of the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and the unlawful detention of activists, lawyers, journalists and civil-society leaders seeking to defend those freedoms,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA.
The official also said the State Department was grateful for the work of VOA reporters and other journalists in China who “have dedicated their lives and taken great risk to pursue this important work.”
Sun was being interviewed August 1 from his home in Jinan, the capital of China’s eastern Shandong province, on the VOA Mandarin language television show Issues & Opinions.
Sun was answering questions about an open letter he’d written to Chinese President Xi Jinping, criticizing Chinese aid to Africa when there are so many living in poverty in China.
Sun told the host in Washington that police had entered his apartment and demanded he end the interview. Sun blamed Xi for sending the officers to break down his door.
“I am entitled to express my opinion. This is my freedom of speech,” were Sun’s last words before the line went dead.
VOA correspondent Yibing Feng in Beijing has been unable to get any comments regarding Sun’s whereabouts from police or the Chinese foreign ministry.
Efforts by the VOA Mandarin service in Washington to reach Sun also have been unsuccessful.
Sun is an outspoken, longtime critic of Chinese authorities. He was arrested during the infamous Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and was sentenced to seven years in prison in 1978 for criticizing Mao Zedong, two years after Mao had died.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and one of the Capitol’s harshest critics of China, is calling for Sun’s immediate release.
“Chinese authorities are increasingly aggressive and brazen in their efforts to stifle free speech and other basic rights. We are deeply concerned for Professor Sun Wenguang’s safety and well-being and urge his immediate and unconditional release,” Rubio said in a statement.
State Department correspondent Nike Ching, Senate correspondent Michael Bowman and Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.