Despite its oft-repeated promises to combat corruption, the government continues to persecute journalists who expose corruption by Communist Party bureaucrats and local officials.
In the latest example, Liu Hu, a journalist with the Guangzhou-based daily Xin Kuai Bao (Modern Express) who was arrested on 24 August, was officially charged with defamation on 30 September, his lawyer, Zhou Ze, reported yesterday.
“We condemn the way investigative reporters are being hounded, seen again in this decision to charge Liu, Reporters Without Borders said. “This is being done to deter journalists and netizens from investigating embezzlement and other illegal practices by officials protected by the party. We call for Liu’s immediate release.”
On 29 July, Liu posted a note on his Sina Weibo account about Ma Zhengqi, state administration deputy director for industry and commerce, accusing him of neglecting his duties while Chongqing party secretary and being implicated in corruption.
Claiming he had solid evidence, Liu accused Ma of refusing to conduct an investigation into the privatization of two state state-owned companies that resulted in considerable losses for the state. Liu also levelled accusations against Shaanxi’s police chief.
Arrested by the Chongqing authorities on 24 August for allegedly fabricating and spreading rumours, Liu is now being held in Beijing, while his microblog account has been suppressed.
His lawyer said he has been able to meet him, but only in the presence of police officers. The lawyer rejected the defamation charges against his client, insisting that there is evidence to support his allegations.
Official notification of arrest
The formal presentation of charges and arrest of Liu is clearly part of the anti-rumour campaign that the party launched in September with freedom of information as one of its targets.
There are parallels to the case of Dong Rubin, a blogger who is famous for exposing corruption among party officials. The government made it clear in Dong’s case as well that it alone has the right to combat corruption and that any member of the public making accusations could be subject to retaliation ranging from closure of Internet accounts to detention.
Two lawyers reacted after the announcement of Liu Hu's official arrest:
Si Wei Jiang: The biggest problem is not that the government cannot use the law to penalize criticism; the problem is its violation of judicial procedure. Liu Hu was detained by the police for “causing trouble on the Internet” and then he was formally arrested for defamation. Only after having him detained did the police begin looking for the evidence to support the charge.
Such practices are contrary to the law and contrary to the declared desire of the authorities to promote moral values.
Liu Xiao Yuan: According to Chinese law, an accusation of defamation can only be brought by an individual, except when the defamation poses a threat to the interests of the state or public order. How could defamatory comments about a state official pose such a threat? Why are the police using public powers to protect an official and to avenge Liu Hu’s attacks?