Anhui police apologise after arrest of 'rumour maker' outrages net users

China’s crackdown on internet dissidents continues with more bloggers and journalists arrested

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 11:25am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 12:32pm

In an act that has outraged China’s online community on Thursday, police in central Anhui province detained an internet “rumour-maker” after he said 16 people died in a traffic accident - which officials had claimed only killed 10.

The Sina Weibo post that Yu Heyu published on Tuesday described an accident he had witnessed a day before on a local highway. “Sixteen people died, including babies,” he wrote in the post. “Yet a local Communist Party chief didn’t allow us to take photos of the scene,” he said. Yu also blamed the local government for failing to improve the condition of the road where the fatal accident happened. The accident had occurred after an overloaded truck hit a van.

Yu was later detained for five days as a punishment for “spreading rumours“, his wife told China’s Southern Metropolis Daily. 

After Yu’s wife protested her husband’s detention online by posting dozens of messages, local police spoke out publicly on the matter on Thursday.

The inaccuracy in blogger Yu Heyu’s post was “against the truth”, was “false” and purely a“rumour”, argued an official Weibo post published by Anhui’s Suzhou police. This post outraged thousands of bloggers, many of whom said the police were abusing their power.

"I shall never claim 300,000 Chinese were killed by the Japanese in Nanjing Massacre [in 1937], since I wasn't there to count the number of dead," one blogger cynically observed. "And I would apparently be accused of spreading rumours."

The criticism seemed to have worked in Yu’s favour. Hours later, Anhui police published an apology.

“We recognise that ‘detaining Yu for five days’ was inappropriate, and we have withdrawn the decision to punish him,” said the post. “We’d like to apologise to Yu, his family and to online users.”

Despite this rare and timely apology, China’s crackdown on internet dissidents continued nationwide with more bloggers and journalists being arrested.

In Wuhan, 27 employees of a public relations firm were arrested for profiting financially from producing rumours, police said. The company is accused of manipulating hundreds influential Weibo accounts which are followed by a total of over 200 million Weibo users, according to reports.

In Hunan, Ge Qiwei, an investigative reporter working for China.com.cn, a website run by China’s State Council Information Office, has been arrested for “picking fights and provoking trouble.” Among other accusations, police said Ge pitted the public against the government when reporting "rumours". They said Ge had done this in a report entitled  “Hengyang’s local government hires 200 thugs to demolish residents’ houses.”

”Ge has been targeting officials and senior company managers for a long time, making up stories and smearing their reputations,“ the police said.

Read more SCMP China Insider stories written by Amy Li or follow her on Twitter