Hong Kong, August 29, 2013--Chinese authorities should release a journalist who has been jailed since Friday, after he accused an official of wrongdoing with posts on his personal microblog, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Liu Hu, a journalist for the Guangdong-based newspaper New Express, was arrested at his home in Chongqing province on August 23, according to Beijing police. He was accused of "fabricating and spreading rumors"--a charge that falls under a wider legal umbrella of crimes of "causing trouble" or "disrupting social order"--in connection with comments posted last month, according to news reports.
Liu had urged authorities to investigate Ma Zhengqi, deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), for dereliction of duty during a term as vice mayor of Chongqing. Liu accused the official of losing millions of yuan while overseeing the suspicious privatization of two state-owned companies, according to media reports. Liu's posts were later removed, and his microblog accounts shut down without explanation.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in July, Liu said that in 2002 Ma allowed civil servants to purchase the state companies for 1.7 million yuan (US$278,000), far less than their value of 27.7 million yuan. Liu had posted a government document allegedly showing that Ma waived investigation into the deal, saying "What is done cannot be undone. Let's focus now on the later development." The SCMP, citing named officials from the government and the company, reported that there have been previous complaints and investigations into the deal. Neither Ma nor the SAIC have publicly addressed Liu's claims.
"Liu Hu should be released immediately. His detention is a transparent attempt to warn others not to publicly air suspicions of wrongdoing by officials," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon in New York. "It is ironic that Chinese officials expend so many resources cracking down on those who raise such allegations even as they publicly pledge to stamp out corruption."
The Information Office of Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau confirmed on its Weibo page on Monday that Liu had been arrested and said the case was being investigated.
Liu's lawyers, Zhou Ze and Si Wei Jiang, issued a statement today confirming that Liu was arrested on "suspicion of the crime of causing trouble." The lawyers argued that online speech does not fit within any of the four forms of "causing trouble" in a public space, as prescribed by China's criminal law, because the legal concept of "public place" does not extend to the Internet.
Liu's wife, Qin Ling, wrote on her Sina Weibo microblog account that police had ransacked their house and confiscated Liu's computers and banking cards, according to local news reports. Her microblog was subsequently shut down as well.
Journalists recently have been using their microblogs to draw attention to corrupt officials, according to a recent report from the SCMP. Earlier this month, news accounts reported that more than 100 private websites had been shut down since May. Several of the sites were alternative news portals run by citizen journalists. The sites have remained shuttered.
The head of China's Party Propaganda Department, Liu Qibao, said Wednesday that controlling Internet opinion is his department's most important priority, and it would "enhance measures to... supervise online speech," according to the Communist Party's official mouthpiece, People's Daily.
- For more data and analysis on China, visit CPJ's March 2013 special report, "Challenged in China."