A Chinese journalist who posted allegations of wrongdoing by government officials online has been formally arrested on a defamation charge, his lawyer said.
The Beijing People’s Procuratorate approved Liu Hu’s arrest on Sept. 30, lawyer Zhou Ze said by phone yesterday. Liu, who worked for the Guangzhou-based New Express, had been in detention since Aug. 24, according to Zhou.
Liu’s arrest comes as China’s government seeks to stem the flow of what it calls online rumors and false news in an effort to exert control over the Internet. Authorities have targeted outspoken bloggers and announced that people who post comments deemed defamatory could face as much as three years behind bars.
Liu’s posts to his microblog, which have since been deleted, were “completely in the public interest” and he had the right under the constitution to criticize without 100 percent proof, Liu’s lawyers said in a statement posted on Zhou’s blog in August.
Liu had tried to expose wrongdoing by officials including the police chief of Shaanxi province and Ma Zhengqi, former vice mayor of Chongqing municipality, according to the statement. Liu alleged on his microblog in July that Ma, now deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, waived further investigation into the privatization of two state-owned companies when he was party secretary of a district in Chongqing, the South China Morning Post reported July 30.
Liu alleged that local civil servants purchased the assets for about 1.7 million yuan ($277,955) even though they were valued at 27.7 million yuan, the SCMP said.
The Beijing People’s Procuratorate didn’t answer two phone calls seeking comment yesterday. An official at the SAIC who asked not to be named declined to comment on Liu’s arrest. Ma was still in his job on Oct. 8, when SAIC issued a statement reporting that he had visited a shopping district in Beijing and encouraged enterprises to “continue to do a good job to provide consumers with quality goods and services.”
Liu’s detention was a “transparent attempt to warn others not to publicly air suspicions of wrongdoing by officials,” Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement Aug. 29.
While some journalists like Liu who alleged corruption have been detained, others have been allowed to work unimpeded. In December, a journalist at Caijing Magazine, Luo Changping, posted allegations against Liu Tienan, who was vice chairman of the country’s top economic planning agency. Liu Tienan was stripped of his position in May, and Luo has since serialized his account online.
China wages periodic campaigns to eliminate the spread of what it terms false news. In 2007, the official Xinhua News Agency announced one such campaign and said bogus journalists have taken bribes in exchange for favorable news coverage.
About 250,000 Chinese journalists will receive training on topics including “the Marxist view on journalism” and journalistic ethics, Xinhua reported yesterday. Reporters will be required to pass a test after the training early next year to obtain or renew their press cards, Xinhua said.
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