Since October 2012, Lu had been collecting information about protests -- including those against land expropriation, wage arrears, official corruption, and environmental pollution--on Chinese social media platforms, often posted by participants and witnesses who wanted to attract wider public attention. After verifying the photos, videos, and text, Lu would publish reports on the protests on his social media accounts, accompanied by photos and video clips collected from participants and witnesses. As well as reporting daily on protests, Lu periodically published statistical reports on rallies, he explained in a 2014 interview in Foreign Policy.
Police detained Lu for 10 days in April 2012 for participating in a protest demanding the disclosure of official assets. Li, originally from Foshan, Guangdong province, had been repeatedly harassed by police when she was a student at Sun Yat-sen University for publishing articles criticizing the Chinese government on websites blocked by China's Internet censorship system. She dropped out of the university in 2014 as a result, according to both Radio Free Asia and Wen Yunchao, a New York-based blogger and friend of Lu.
In early 2013, Li joined Lu in helping research and publish reports on protests. The pair worked together until their arrest, according to The Initium, a Hong Kong-based news website.
In August 2016, Lu's lawyer, Wang Zongyue, posted on social media that when he visited Lu, the journalist told him prison officials had beaten him after he covered his eyes while trying to sleep under the bright lights in his cell. Lu said the guards had twisted his arms, choked him, and that he had hit his head on a wall as a result. After prison officials refused Lu's request to see a doctor, he went on hunger strike to protest his mistreatment, according to Wang's social media posts.
In August 2017, Lu was sentenced to four years in prison by the Dali People’s Court in Yunnan province. Lu's lawyer, Xiao, called Lu's sentence "unreasonable" in an interview with Radio Free Asia and said he and Lu’s other lawyer, Wang Zhongyue, had lodged an appeal.
Lu’s appeal took place on September 13, 2017. The court upheld the verdict and sentence, according to Lu’s lawyers. Lu was transferred from the Dali city detention center to the Dali city prison on October 13, 2017, according to Minsheng Guancha, a Chinese human rights news website. Minsheng Guancha also reported that Lu’s friend, whose name was not disclosed in the report, was not allowed to visit him in prison. CPJ's phone calls to the Dali City Public Security Bureau seeking more information about Lu's detention in late 2018 went unanswered. On September 30, 2018, Xiao told CPJ that Lu was in the process of lodging a second appeal.