China Detains Environmental Hero

April 23, 2007 Updated: April 23, 2007

BEIJING—Chinese police have detained an environmental activist who was once praised for his efforts to save the country's third-largest freshwater lake, his wife said on Monday, in the latest government crackdown on dissent.

Wu Lihong was detained on April 13 by police in Yixing, in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu, accused of extortion and blackmail, Xu Jiehua told Reuters.

Wu, 39, a salesman-turned-activist, had reported worsening pollution at the Tai lake from chemical factories to local environmental departments and the media.

His efforts upset local authorities who benefited from the high profits and taxes paid by the offending factories, Xu said.

“More than 10 plainclothes police officers broke through our door at night and took him away,” Xu said by telephone.

“Not until one the next morning did these people tell me that they were police and told me that my husband had been detained,” she said.

“The accusations are totally groundless. All my husband did was try to save the environment and make more people aware of the situation at the lake,” she said.

The Tai Lake, with an area of 2,420 square km (934 square miles) and a coastline of 400 km (250 miles), straddles the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and is home to more than 60 kinds of fish and other aquatic products.

In 2005, Wu was a candidate in a national campaign to name 10 people who “moved China” in their services to society.

He had earlier been detained for 15 days after he was sacked by a factory under pressure from local authorities because of his activist work, Xu said.

The family are seeking a lawyer and preparing for a possible trial, even though they have received no information on whether any charges would be laid.

Detention of activists is not uncommon in China. In 2006, a court in Zhejiang sentenced an environmental activist to a year and a half in prison for “illegally obtaining state secrets”.