A former senior editor of a Chinese Communist Party journal who moved to the US after being investigated for criticising the government said bank accounts holding his family's life savings had been frozen in China.
Deng Yuwen, 52, a former deputy editor of the Study Times, the Central Party School's official newspaper, said the accounts, holding 300,000 yuan (US$45,000), were frozen on September 2 in what he called a "warning to dissidents in the United States".
Deng lost his job at the Study Times in 2013 after publishing a commentary calling on China to abandon North Korea as an ally. Before that, he had criticised the lack of political reform in the administration of then president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao.
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In August, he wrote in The New York Times that the US should review its China containment policy and find ways to "reactivate reformists in the party and liberals in Chinese society".
Washington has accused Beijing of trying to intimidate Chinese citizens in the US, including critics of the communist party.
On October 29, John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security at the US Department of Justice, charged eight people with sending threatening letters to a Chinese family in the US.
Department officials said they believed those charged were part of China's "Operation Fox Hunt", which Beijing refers to as an anti-corruption effort to track down fugitives abroad. US officials have said the operation is a violation of international norms and that China has used the programme to target dissidents.
The freezing of Deng's accounts comes after Cai Xia, a former professor at the Central Party School, which specialises in training the next generation of potential leaders, was expelled from the party in August and lost her pension. She had criticised President Xi Jinping and called for political liberalisation. She now lives in the US.
Deng, who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children, said he had tried unsuccessfully to communicate with "the relevant authorities" regarding his family's accounts since September 16.
"We earned every cent from our work and writing, but we can no longer use them to pay for my mother's expenses in China," he said.
"I was not allowed to go back to attend my father's funeral last year. And now I cannot send money directly to my mother, who is over 90 years old. I am very worried."
Deng said the money was also to repay relatives who helped with the down payment on his house.
The 300,000 yuan is frozen in four accounts under his and his wife's names at Beijing branches of Bank of China, China Citic Bank, and China Construction Bank, according to Deng.
"My wife is not involved in any political activities, but her account is also frozen," he said.
A Bank of China official said the freezing of bank accounts was "based on the authorities' instruction" but refused to give more details. The other two banks did not reply to phone inquiries.
A Beijing Public Security Bureau official said account holders had to contact the officer in charge of their case to find out why an account had been blocked.
Deng moved his family to the United States in August 2018, after being under surveillance and investigated by the Chinese authorities for two years. During the investigation, his passport was confiscated.
Deng said his only income now was from writing commentaries on Chinese politics for newspapers.
A criminal lawyer based in Beijing said that under China's constitution the state protected "the right of citizens to own lawfully earned income and savings", but in practice, the process to unfreeze accounts was usually "painfully long and full of uncertainty".
"First you need to find out who froze the account and talk to the officer in charge. That is already difficult as their numbers are not publicly available," said the lawyer, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
"Even if you have the luck to find the officer, it is a marathon to get some money back. Many just give up after years of struggle."
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.