China censors letter urging Beijing inquiry into chained woman

The video of the woman locked in a village hut in Jiangsu province was widely shared on social media over the Lunar New Year holiday. PHOTOS: SCREENGRAB FROM MANYA KOETSE/TWITTER

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China has censored a letter signed by 100 alumni of a top university calling for a central government probe into the case of a mother of eight who was kept chained by the neck in a hut, a rare public challenge to the government of President Xi Jinping.

The graduates of Peking University called for an investigation of local officials involved in the case, a nationwide review of women and children involved in trafficking cases, and changes to the law to prevent future such episodes.

They also wanted more details released on the woman's identity.

The letter said statements by authorities in the eastern city of Xuzhou "are full of inconsistencies", adding: "We earnestly request the central government to conduct a thorough investigation and provide the public with an authoritative response."

The letter disappeared from Chinese social media late on Tuesday (Feb 15), shortly after it was posted.

Attempts to open the letter on the social media app now lead to a page reading: "Unable to view this content because it violates regulations."

The lingering public anger over the episode is a growing embarrassment for the ruling Communist Party, which wants the focus on its handling of the Beijing Winter Olympics despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Censors in the world's No. 2 economy often delete online content they don't want the public to debate, as was seen in November when tennis star Peng Shuai's account of a turbulent affair with a retired senior official was removed.

Silencing the uproar over the woman surnamed Yang who officials in Xuzhou said suffers from speech abnormalities and schizophrenia is proving more difficult.

A video of her appeared online late last month, then circulated over the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday when much of the nation was closed for business.

Last week, news that three people had been detained - including the woman's husband for suspected unlawful imprisonment - became a trending topic on the Twitter-like Weibo service, attracting some 400 million views.

Public fury has been particularly aimed at officials in Xuzhou, whose early statements seemed to downplay the severity of the situation.

They said a friend brought the woman to Jiangsu from the southwestern province of Yunnan years ago for medical treatment and to find a "good family to marry". They added she got separated from the person and married her husband in 1998.

Police later detained two people, including a woman identified as the friend of the mother, on suspicion of trafficking. The local government later said it would provide funds for the woman and her children to support themselves.

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