Chinese blogger detained for ‘provoking trouble’

New York, May 23, 2016 – Chinese authorities should immediately release blogger and commentator Wei Manyi, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police have detained the blogger for almost a week on suspicion of “provoking trouble.”

Police in Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, on May 17 summoned Wei Manyi, better known by his pen name, Shui Muran, to the police station to “assist investigations,” searched Wei’s home and copied information from his computer, according to Southern Metropolis, a regional newspaper based in Guangdong.

The next day, police summoned Wei’s younger brother to the police station and served him with a notice saying that Wei had been detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to Southern Metropolis.

Wei’s brother told the newspaper that the police said to him that the detention was due to a May 3 article Wei published on the Chinese social media service WeChat alleging links between corrupt businessmen and Buddhist temples. Police told Southern Metropolis that Wei was detained, but did not specify a reason. Police told the U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Asia that they had not heard of Wei.

“Simply writing an article should never be grounds for detention, and ‘provoking trouble’ is so broad an offense it invites abuse by prosecutors,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said. “We call on Chinese authorities to immediately release Wei Manyi.”

More than 100,000 people read Wei’s May 3 post to WeChat within a few hours of its publication, according to press reports. Wei deleted the article several hours later and published an apology on his social media accounts, saying he had not done enough research and calling on people to stop sharing it. The next day, the Buddhist Association of China published articles on its website accusing Wei of smearing Buddhists and damaging the reputation of Buddhism in China.

The Chinese government in 2013 decreed that authors of libelous material viewed more than 5,000 times, or forwarded more than 500 times, can be charged with defamation and jailed for up to three years. Those who share information deemed to be false and to cause “serious social disorder” can be charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Chinese officials have since accused or convicted several writers of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to CPJ research.

In November 2015, a new law went into effect, stipulating that those deemed to have fabricated information related to “hazards, epidemics, disasters, and situations involving police,” or to have intentionally disseminated false information that could cause “serious social disorder” can be punished by to up to seven years in prison.