Police in Beijing apologised on Tuesday for a report on a crackdown on prostitution in Beijing’s Changping district - after internet users discovered that it showed striking similarities to another story published seven years ago.
The choice of a photo dating from 2006 for its Weibo post on the raid was a lapse by an on-duty staffer running the municipal police micro-blog on Saturday, the city’s Public Security Bureau explained on Tuesday.
It re-reported the raid of three illegal brothels and the detention of 31 people on prostitution charges in Dongsanqi village in Beijing’s northern Changping district, which it said took place on August 23.
Back in 2006, the Qianlong news portal of the Beijing municipal propaganda department reported a raid in the same village. The same number of brothels was raided and the same number of people detained.
The police apology on Tuesday referred, however, only to a photo, without specifying whether the entire report was copied or whether the unlikely coincidence of an identical raid had occurred.
Many were quick to mock the report as “rumour-mongering”. This follows an ongoing campaign by Chinese security forces - which has seen hundreds of people detained for sharing unverified information online over the last month. “Now you can arrest yourself”, an anonymous internet user from the Guangxi capital Nanning quipped on a microblog post - which has since been deleted.
“Yes it’s true, Beijing police are spreading rumours! Arrest them!” wrote Wuhan-based lawyer Li Jianshe in another post, which has also been deleted.
The mishap is particularly embarrassing because it occurred two weeks after Beijing police detained celebrity online commentator Charles Xue on charges of soliciting prostitutes in the capital. Xue was also shown confessing on national television during over the last week. His detention and public humiliation has been widely linked to a national “anti-rumour” campaign.
Dozens of Sina Weibo posts mocking Beijing police for its latest blunder were deleted on Tuesday. “But is an apology enough?” asked Yao Zhongqiu, who heads the Unirule Institute of Economics, an an independent think-tank in Beijing founded by liberal economist Mao Yushi.