A paramilitary officer speaks next to a screen showing People’s Liberation Army border guards during an event at an elementary school in Wuzhishan, Hainan Province, China on Feb.22. On the screen you can see (LR) Qi Fabao, who was serious wounded and four dead in the border conflict with Indian troops last June: Chen Hongjun, Chen Xiangrong, Xiao Siyuan and Wang Zhuoran. China Daily / via Reuters Hide caption
China Daily / via Reuters
China Daily / via Reuters
BEIJING – When China announced earlier this year that four of its soldiers had died eight months earlier fighting Indian forces on the two countries’ controversial mountain border, disrespectful blogger Little Spicy Pen Ball had questions.
“When the four [Chinese] Soldiers died trying to save their fellow soldiers, then there must have been those who were not successfully rescued. “ he wrote on February 19 to its 2.5 million followers on Weibo, a Chinese social media site. “That means the deaths couldn’t have been just four.”
The day after, Qiu Ziming, the 38-year-old former newspaper journalist behind the blog, was arrested and prosecuted. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of up to three years.
“Little Spicy Pen Ball maliciously slandered and humiliated the heroes who defend our country and the border,” he said annual work report released by the country’s attorney general this month.
A contrite Qiu behind bars called his actions “an obliteration of conscience” in a tape Explanation Aired on the state broadcaster’s prime-time newscast on March 1.
Qiu is that first case tried under a sweeper new criminal law this came into force on March 1st. The new law punishes “the violation of the reputation and honor of revolutionary heroes”. At least six other people were arrested or accused of defaming “martyrs”. The government uses the terms “revolutionary hero” and “martyr” to refer to anyone it remembers for its sacrifice for the Communist Party.
The detentions are typical of the tighter controls on online language under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which have deterred almost all open disagreements in the country. The new law even seeks to criminalize speeches made outside of China.
Such is the case of Wang Jingyu, 19, who lives in the United States and is now a wanted man in his hometown of Chongqing, China. Authorities accused him of slandering Chinese soldiers who died after Weibo reported him over a comment questioning the number of victims of border fighting.
“This is killing a monkey to scare the chickens,” says Wang. “The Chinese state wants to show others that if someone wants to be like me or pass on the truth, they will be persecuted.”
A 2018 Law enables police to investigate slanderous martyrs. As a result, several people were arrested an online table Believed to be free expression by an activist, but until now such behavior has not resulted in jail time.
“Cyberspace is not outside the law,” said the Chongqing Public Security Bureau said in an online statement after it stated that Wang would be “followed online” for his comments. “Public security organs will act against actions that openly offend the deeds and spirits of heroes and martyrs in accordance with the law.”
It is unclear how the authorities plan to arrest Wang. A police officer who contacted Wang and asked him to report did not answer calls and texts from NPR.
China’s ruling Communist Party is very sensitive to the challenges of its rule. One of the more recent threats it has identified is “historical nihilism” – that is, reject the official version of the party’s history and its pantheon of revolutionary heroes and martyrs.
The four Chinese soldiers who died during the border conflict last June are the newest members of this canon. They were killed high up in the Himalayas, where hundreds of Chinese and Indian soldiers, armed only with stones and batons, beat each other bloodily, each side accusing the other of allegedly intervening over an unmarked border. Days after the incident, India said 20 of its troops were killed in the brawl.
China refused to confirm the deaths on its side until the names of four soldiers killed and a fifth seriously injured in the controversial Galwan Valley area were released in February. State media ran extensive footage of their ministry and the last hours of their lives.
The sudden media flash made Wang angry, he says. He had closely followed the tensions on the borders of China and India and questioned the initial shortage of deaths that China had reported. He wondered about the families of the soldiers who he suspected had died and who had to mourn silently without official approval.
In late February, when he was in the back seat of a friend’s car in Europe, Wang paced back and forth for half an hour to consider whether to write something online. He currently lives in California, but his parents remain in Chongqing, China, where they worked for two state-owned companies.
“I knew that if I ridiculed these soldiers, it would negatively affect my parents,” says Wang. “But I was just too angry.” He clicked on three comments under a message praising the four Chinese troops.
The soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army “deserved to die,” he wrote, and the Indian armed forces had the right to face their “perpetrators”. Wang now admits the comments were offensive, but says he purposely designed them to cross the boundaries of the language in China.
His comments went viral and aired on China’s most watched evening news program. Shortly afterwards, Wang said his parents had been questioned by police for hours.
The Chongqing police did not respond to a request for comment.
In the days following his social media posts, Wang said that his mother and father were under effective house arrest at their Chongqing home, where they could make two short and short phone calls to Wang under police supervision. He has not been able to reach her since then.
“They told me they support me and they are proud of me,” said Wang.
Amy Cheng contributed research from Beijing.