Target: Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China
Goal: Release journalist Liu Hu, arrested on false rumor charges for accusing an official of corruption on his blog
Hands that type on a keyboard are hands that will soon be in handcuffs — that is a truth that has been driven home repeatedly to Chinese bloggers and online journalists. The government’s recently passed law criminalizing the online posting of false rumors has claimed yet another victim – Liu Hu, a journalist from the southeastern Chinese city of Guangzhou.
The defamation charges that formed the cornerstone of the government’s case against him were related to Ma Zhengqi, an official whom Hu accused of involvement in a corrupt privatization scheme of two state-owned food and beverage companies at a bargain price that was a loss to the state — a suspiciously lucrative sale that might have entailed bribery. Hu was first detained on August 25th for spreading false rumors, but it was only on October 10th that the state revealed he has been formally arrested on libel charges. The government has taken the further step of deleting the posting in question; beyond that, it has deleted Hu’s microblogging account altogether, leaving no online trace of his government-critical writing.
The Chinese Communist Party has instituted the law criminalizing false online rumors as a part of its campaign to prevent web-active citizens from exposing the misbehavior of officials, a trend that has gained momentum over the last few years and brought much embarrassment to the leadership, forcing it to remove party members in high-ranking administrative positions. To stop the pattern of having to sack one official after another for their misdeeds, whether related to financial fraud or inappropriately-chosen words, the state has targeted bloggers by criminalizing their accusations as defamation or “false rumors” and quickly stepping in to delete the offensive text. (Note: The government seems to tolerate complaints against officials only if they are filed on its own website.)
But in waging a campaign against the spread of information about its members’ corruption, the party is not addressing the source of the problem. The real enemy that it should be combating is the disorder in its own ranks. Xi Jinping has recently summoned officials to demand that they refuse expensive gifts, forgo ostentatious luxury products, and pass up on resplendent banquets with fine delicacies off-limits to regular working people. Its members’ inability to resist the temptation of easy money is the party’s fault and not the bloggers’ — perhaps that realization will prompt it to eventually repeal the law penalizing online rumors. But the arrests based on the law should stop immediately.
The Chinese Communist Party should not hold its citizen activists responsible for the embarrassing behavior of its members but rather address the problem from within. Sign this petition to demand that the Chinese government release the journalist Liu Hu since his action of embarrassing the party by accusing an official of corruption on his blog should not be treated like a crime.
Dear Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China,
The Communist Party should not make citizen activists responsible for the misbehavior of its members. Every time that official corruption is exposed, the bloggers who wrote about it shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of responsibility for embarrassing the party. The best way for the party to regain its credibility in the eyes of the people is not by quashing the online testimony of bribes that boost the wealth of its high-ranking civil servants. Rather, the culture of corruption has to be fought from within; those who witness it and report it online are merely performing a public service by alerting the government of fraud within its ranks.
Such citizen journalism has already helped China uncover instances of egregious misbehavior and convict those responsible. Hence, bloggers should be considered as allies in the state’s campaign to root out corruption and not as enemies whose voices should be silenced by means of a law penalizing “online rumors.” The blogosphere has ushered in a culture of transparency in which party members know that their financial fraud will not go unnoticed. This increased scrutiny may contribute to a higher level of honesty among officials. There’s no sense in punishing bloggers for accusations that can only help and not hurt the Communist Party. This is why we urge you to release the journalist Liu Hu and drop the false rumor charges leveled against him.
[Your Name Here]
photocredit: ivanwalsh via Flickr