Writer jailed for defamation amid China rumor crackdown

New York, April 26, 2012–A court in Hunan province has sentenced local resident Hu Lianyou to two years in prison for defaming a police chief in online writings, according to local news reports.

Hu Lianyou accused two police officers in his native Dong’an county of beating him during interrogation, corruption, and other abuses in September 2010, according to the reports. The officers, including police chief Zheng Hang, charged him with defamation, saying his “comments posted on popular websites including Sina.com” were “pure rumor,” according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

Hu, a rights activist often critical of local authorities, petitioned to move the trial to a more neutral court, away from the police chief’s jurisdiction, but the request was denied, according to Hong Kong University-based China Media Project.

“This verdict sends a chilling message to journalists and online writers who would criticize those in authority,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “No one should be sent to jail on defamation charges.”

Tuesday’s sentence comes amid a crackdown on rumors in the wake of a massive murder and corruption scandal surrounding deposed politician Bo Xilai. It was not clear if Hu’s comments were made on Sina’s microblog site, Weibo. At least six other people, including a financial journalist, have been detained in relation to postings on that site this month.

CPJ documented at least 27 journalists in jail in China in 2011, including many freelancers who worked online. Although most are imprisoned on anti-state charges, criminal defamation is occasionally used to obstruct reporting, according to CPJ research.