Journalist Liu Hu was formally arrested for accusing officials of corruption seven weeks after his detention on Aug 24, 2013.
Liu, from the Guangzhou-based New Express, had called for an investigation into Ma Zhengqi, the deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, through his account on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo on July 29. Liu’s posts detail the alleged corruption involving four high-ranking officials.
He has been detained on suspicion of “fabricating and spreading rumours” since, and his Sina Weibo account deleted during his detention.
Liu Hu’s arrest is the latest crackdown on critical voices in Chinese social media. Some high-profile liberals on Weibo have been warned or detained by the police during the past few months. In September 2013, prominent online celebrity Charles Xue was detained by Beijing police for suspected solicitation of prostitution.
Many journalists and lawyers believe Liu is innocent. Some were shocked by Liu's arrest as they compared Liu with another journalist, Luo Changping, who made similar public accusations in 2012 against Liu Tienan, the deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission. The official was sacked from his post in the end.
Despite the public anger, the chilling effect of the crackdown has reined in different voices online. A few voices of support online for Liu have been responded with pro-party lecturing, which was believed to be posted by commenters hired by the Chinese government, known as the 50 Cent party.
A Lanzhou-based journalist questioned [zh] why Liu lost his freedom:
No prostitution, no rumors, no blackmail, no other wrongdoing, simply because the microblogging exposes the suspected corruption of officials, and he was arrested disturbing public order with potential danger to the society. Are you really afraid? Do you know this kind of treatment is only considered stupid. Because we are concerned not only with the freedom of Liu Hu, but also why he has lost his freedom!
Her post was soon attacked by “other netizens” with the opposite opinion, to which she responded [zh]:
I just wrote a post to support Liu Hu, but I got bombarded with lots of trash feedback from the 50 Cent party.
Another netizen Hu Ning echoed [zh]:
I just clicked the hot topic “Liu Hu got arrested”, but all the related comments are either from some weird names, without any verification. Lot of accounts didn't even have profile photos. The opinions are surprisingly coherent, which made me shiver.
Some netizens have turned to other social media platforms. Lawyer Zhou Lixin analyzed [zh] on his blog:
In fact, Beijing police's approach destroys the image of the party and the country. First, they did not guarantee the officials’ innocence. Second, they held a whistleblower criminally liable without going through the law. Such an approach sends a signal to all citizens: whether senior party officials are corrupt or not, you can't expose them online, and anyone who dares to do so will end up in jail like journalist Liu Hu.
On Twitter, “电车痴汉 @mrlaoyang” wrote:
The arrest of Liu Hu can only prove that the deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce has a more powerful background.
Another netizen Lily Lee [zh] expressed doubts about the government's determination to fight against corruption:
They arrest journalists like these with a strong sense of justice, which makes it unclear whether the government is really fighting against corruption.