China detains EU delegation employee on trumped up charges

Domestic News

An Dong, an employee for the EU delegation, has been detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” He was known for posting politically risky content to Chinese social media, but it is unclear what led the security services to detain and charge him.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

A Chinese national working for the European Union’s diplomatic mission in Beijing has been detained in Sichuan for more than six months on disorderly conduct, Brussels said on Friday.

  • An Dong, an IT support staffer for the EU delegation, often expressed candid political takes and spoke in favor of democratic principles on WeChat. His account has previously been suspended “likely as a result of his political views,” per the Wall Street Journal.
  • The arrest was first reported by French newspaper Le Monde, which alleged that the EU delegation to China hadn’t heard back from Beijing after it sent three diplomatic notes to China’s Foreign Ministry expressing concern and seeking information about An.
  • “Despite multiple requests on our side to the Chinese authorities, we have so far not been informed neither of the allegation(s) nor of the specific charges,” EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali stated. “We will continue enquiring until we get a proper answer.”
  • Massrali said that An had been detained in September 2021.

An has been charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (​​寻衅滋事 xúnxìn zīshì), a broadly defined crime under the law of the People’s Republic of China that was introduced in 1979, and subsequently used, frequently, to punish dissent.

  • The charge “really got a lot of play since the rise and fall of Minjian activities” in the first decade of this century. “It’s what they call a koudai zui (口袋罪 kǒudài zuì), a term I translate as ‘portmanteau crimes,’” the scholar Geremie Barmé told SupChina.
  • “Picking quarrels is the crime of choice for Chinese authorities who want to arbitrarily criminalize any speech that they don’t like,” said William Nee of the U.S.-based NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
  • Two officials planned to propose abolishing the charge at the “Two Sessions” political gatherings that took place this past March, stating that the charge could easily be misused in judicial practice.

China news, weekly.

Sign up for SupChina Weekly, our free roundup of the most important China stories.

Similar previous public detainments include:

  • A delivery worker was charged one with “picking quarrels” in 2021 for organizing workers associations online.
  • Zhāng Zhǎn 张展, a citizen journalist who reported on the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, was arrested in May 2020 and sentenced to four years in prison later that year. Rights groups, including the UN, have condemned her detainment.
  • Haze Fan, a Bloomberg News staffer and Chinese citizen, was detained in December 2020 for “endangering national security.” One year later, she has still not been released and no further information has been provided.
  • Chéng Lěi 成蕾, an Australian citizen and former host for state TV, was detained for unknown reasons and had many of her social media accounts scrubbed following her arrest in August 2020.
  • Yáng Héngjūn 杨恒均, a writer and former Chinese diplomat with Australian citizenship, was detained without reason by the Chinese authorities and later charged with espionage in 2021.
  • Simon Cheng Man-kit (郑文杰 Zhèng Wénjié), a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong who was detained by Chinese security forces in 2019, was “tortured, interrogated, and coerced into making a confession that he had solicited prostitutes.” Read his public statement here.