Chinese Prosecutors Approve Arrest of Whistleblower Journalist

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Reporter Liu Hu is held on suspicion of "fabricating and spreading rumors," a new rule being used to muzzle dissent online.

State prosecutors in Beijing have formally approved the arrest of crusading journalist Liu Hu on libel charges, seven weeks after he was taken away in handcuffs by police from his home in Chongqing, in southwest China.

Liu, who worked for the Shenzhen-based newspaper Modern Express, was detained on Aug. 25 on suspicion of "fabricating and spreading rumors," a new rule that is being used to muzzle dissent online.

His arrest is believed to be linked to accusations of graft against Ma Zhengqi, the deputy head of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

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President Xi Jinping’s government, which was installed in Nov. 2012, has been engaged in a widespread crackdown on corruption, but police continue to arrest activists seeking greater transparency.

Liu’s posts were "completely in the public interest," his lawyers said in August.

He had used his Sina Weibo account, a Twitter-style microblog, to call for an investigation into Ma, who is still in his job, for his alleged involvement in the sale of state-owned companies at a fraction of their true worth.

In September, China unveiled tough measures aimed at halting what it calls false news and irresponsible rumors, threatening terms of three years in jail if defamatory or untrue postings online were widely reposted.

Every couple of years, China steps up its efforts to keep a tight grip on the media. The Xinhua news agency reported on Oct. 10 that some 250,000 Chinese reporters will receive training on topics including "the Marxist view on journalism" and journalistic ethics. Reporters will be required to pass a test after the training early next year to obtain or renew their press cards.

Twitter and Facebook are banned, but netizens flock to domestic social media, such as Weibo, and often post comments critical of local government officials or broader state policy.

The Beijing People’s Procuratorate approved Liu's arrest on charges of libel, according to his lawyer Zhou Ze, quoted on local media.

There have been many detentions in recent months for “rumor-mongering.”

They include a man who slandered a group of war heroes from World War II, and another who wrote negative remarks about Communist icon Lei Feng.

In August, whistleblower Zhou Lubao was detained after publishing a report on corruption online, and has since been charged with extortion.

China has over 591 million Internet users and routinely censors the Internet by blocking access to websites with pornography, gambling and content critical of the Communist Party’s rule.

Among the serious issues on which the government is trying to crack down is the spreading of false information, which causes protests, ethnic or religious unrest or has a “bad international effect.”

However, some reporters appear to be able to work unimpeded when reporting on corruption, such as Caijing magazine reporter Luo Changping, who exposed wrongdoings by Luo Tienan, the vice chairman of China's top planning agency. The official has since been stripped of his post.