China dissident's brother denies politics behind his arrest: media

BEIJING (AFP) - The detained brother of a Chinese dissident has denied he was held over an online call for President Xi Jinping to resign, according to a letter released by police.

Germany-based writer Chang Ping - whose given name is Zhang Ping - has said authorities detained three of his family members in connection with the online call, whose authorship is unclear and which appears to have prompted a wide-ranging inquiry.

Police in Sichuan province said Chang's relatives were in fact being held for suspected arson. They released what they said was a handwritten letter from his brother Zhang Wei denying Chang's claims, the state-run Sichuan Online website said.

"My brother Zhang Ping does not understand the truth of the situation, apparently he is saying we were kidnapped for political reasons," it read. "The real situation is not like that."

It added that the family members were held for accidentally burning a patch of woodland while making traditional graveside offerings to relatives.

It called on Chang "not to make these kinds of false statements which are even attacks on relevant departments and staff", adding that "all the family is angry".

AFP was unable to verify the letter's origin or the circumstances under which it was written, and police in Sichuan did not respond to a request to comment.

Chinese authorities have detained several people in what appears to be a reaction to the letter, which was attributed to "Loyal Communist Party Members" and appeared on Wujie News, a state-backed website, before it was deleted.

Those held include at lest four staff members at Wujie, who went missing around two weeks ago. Last week New York-based writer Wen Yunchao said officials in the southern province of Guangdong had taken away three of his family members in the probe.

Media criticism of top leaders is almost unheard of in China, where the press is strictly controlled by the ruling Communist Party.