Investigative reporter Liu Hu from the Guangzhou-based New Express daily was placed under detention last August on suspicion of defaming state officials amid a sweeping anti-rumour crackdown.
Rights lawyer Zhou Ze, has represented Liu during his detention, said the journalist was released on bail on Sunday. He said he believed that the state was unlikely to press charges because the indictment is groundless.
“The prosecutor has ordered the police to supplement their investigations several times over the past seven months. It shows the procuratorial organ is in disagreement with the police on the view of the case,” Zhou told the South China Morning Post on Monday.
He said Liu’s detention was a typical example of “criminalisation of speech”, in an effort to halt criticism of those in public office.
“Liu’s arrest was obviously a result of retribution for the accusations he made”, Zhou said.
Before his arrest last year, Liu reported via his social media account that a number of ministry-level officials were suspected of abusing their power.
“As long as journalists do not fabricate and are not without grounds when questioning officials, they should not be held accountable,” Zhou said.
“His release shows the prosecutor in this case is still in charge, for he has not colluded with police to crack down on the innocent.”
Liu’s release was hailed by a score of supporters, including rights lawyers, academics and other journalists, who maintained he was not guilty.
Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said on his Weibo microblog that “Liu’s own innocence and clean record” and “prosecutor’s justice” contributed to his release.
Journalist Tan Chunping said Liu’s release “is a signal that the accusations made against officials, even without concrete evidence, serve only as a form of supervision on officials as long as they are not maliciously fabricated.”
Meanwhile, veteran investigative reporter Chen Baocheng, who works for leading financial news weekly Caixin, was also released on bail a month ago, also after nearly a year in detention.
He was arrested during a land dispute in his home village in Shandong last August. Police accused Chen, along with six other villagers, of unlawfully imprisoning a bulldozer driver. Chen argued that he simply wanted to prevent the man from demolishing his house.