Authorities in north-west China have suspended a county police chief who oversaw the detention of a teenage boy last week for posting “online rumours”, in an unexpected twist to one of the most high-profile cases to emerge from a nationwide crackdown on internet freedom. Yang Hui, a 16-year-old student in Zhangjiachuan county, Gansu province, was arrested after posting messages castigating local police for their handling of a murder case.
The authorities accused him of “spreading rumours, inciting mass demonstrations and seriously obstructing social order”. He was released on Monday after seven days in custody.
Chinese web users were incensed by the arrest; in retaliation, some began exploring the backgrounds of county officials. They criticised party chief Liu Changjiang for wearing luxury watches which, as a public servant, should have been beyond his means. One uncovered old court documents accusing police chief Bai Yongqiang of giving 50,000 yuan (£5,111) in bribes to his former boss between 1995 and 2005. Bai has since been suspended, according to a Monday night post on the county government’s website.
While the Chinese state newswire Xinhua said Bai’s suspension was unrelated to the boy’s arrest, experts say the intense public scrutiny may have played a role in his release. “This kind of thing places a lot of pressure on the local government,” said Xu Xin, a law professor at the Beijing University of Technology who gave Yang pro bono legal counsel. “Public opinion is really important here.” On Tuesday afternoon, the county government’s phone line was disconnected.
China launched a severe crackdown on what it calls “online rumours” this summer in an effort to rein in the country’s freewheeling online communities. China’s microblogging websites have more than 500 million users, and a growing number have been using the sites to expose corrupt officials and criticise controversial policies. Dozens of prominent activists, political commentators and even celebrities have been detained in recent weeks, including prominent human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong and Charles Xue, a venture capitalist with 12 million followers.
Yang was among the first victims of a new “judicial interpretation”, announced this month, which endorses jail sentences of up to three years for users who write “defamatory” posts that are forwarded more than 500 times. “Arresting somebody for spreading rumours on the internet, that doesn’t surprise me much at all,” said Xu. “But to arrest a child, I found that astonishing.”
The chain of events leading to Yang’s arrest are hazy. On 12 September, the manager of a local karaoke bar was found dead on the pavement near his club; local police quickly labelled the death a suicide.
Yang spoke to the dead man’s family and, over the next few days, posted a series of notes to his microblog accusing the police of covering up a murder. He said the club owner was an employee of the local courthouse, and police tried to silence his family members by beating them. The posts briefly went viral before censors took them down.
After his release on Monday, the bespectacled teenager posted a photo of himself to Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblog, in a sweater which reads “make the change”. His right hand is raised in a victory sign. “Today I formally returned to my third-year middle school studies,” he wrote on Tuesday afternoon. “Everything that you internet friends have said will be forever engraved on my heart.”
China blocks overseas websites which it deems politically sensitive, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the New York Times. Yet authorities may make an exception for a forthcoming free trade zone in Shanghai, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous government sources.
The zone will span a 28.8 sq km swath of the city’s Pudong district and will abide by a set of still-unknown economic policies meant to attract foreign investment. It is due to open later this month. “In order to welcome foreign companies to invest and to let foreigners live and work happily in the free trade zone, we must think about how we can make them feel at home,” the paper quoted an official as saying.
source: Guardian UK