Reporters Without Borders condemns investigative journalist Liu Wei’s detention for the past 11 days on a charge of “illegally obtaining state secrets” in connection with his coverage of a high-profile corruption case.
The deputy editor of Southern Metropolis News (南方都市报), a newspaper based in Guangdong, the 37-year-old Liu Wei (刘伟) was arrested in Chengdu on 8 October while on his way to Beijing to attend a seminar, and taken to Jiangxi province, where he is still being held in Pingxiang. The corruption case involves a controversial master of qigong (a traditional system of exercise and meditation), Communist Party officials, businessmen and celebrities. The charge brought against Liu under article 282 of the 1997 penal codes carries a possible seven-year jail sentence. “We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Liu Wei because, like Gao Yu, he is guilty of nothing more than doing his job in a professional manner and with a sense of duty,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “President Xi Jinping’s government proclaimed combatting corruption to be one of its priorities but yet again it has shown its authoritarian nature. By using a ‘state secrets’ charge to gag the source of information of public interest, Xi’s party has betrayed its real goal, which is to protect its members and prevent a new blow to its legitimacy.” Ever since the controversial qigong master Wang Lin was arrested in a murder investigation in June, Liu had been published a devastating series of documents provided by Wang’s former wife and a police officer. According to the South China Morning Post, these two sources have been held on the same charge as Liu since September. The official media have said nothing about Liu’s detention and the Communist Party is censoring social networks. But Southern Metropolis News, for which Liu has worked since 2009, issued a statement supporting him on 16 October. The requests for Liu’s release on bail that his wife and lawyer submitted on 10 and 13 October were rejected. Gao Yu, a well-known journalist who was awarded UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano prize in 1997, was sentenced to seven years in prison on 17 April on the same charge of disclosing state secrets. Article 282’s vague wording allows the authorities to define any information as a state secret, even after the event. China is ranked 176th out of 180 counties in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.