Kunming railway station attack

Beijing police threaten action against microbloggers over Kunming attack comments

Warning against bloggers sparks fears of another internet crackdown

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 3:41pm

Beijing police issued harsh warnings this week to some of China’s most outspoken microbloggers after they posted about the social and political reasons behind the Kunming railway station attack.

The internet security group of the Beijing police department accused influential microbloggers, including writer Li Chengpeng and journalist Luo Changping, of “ignoring facts” and “mistaking the black for the white”.

It warned that "public figures” should “be responsible for their words” and threatened action "when laws are breached", but did not elaborate.

The message sparked fears of another internet crackdown, following the one launched by central government late last year, in which it arrested liberal commentators and microbloggers, shut down websites and erased what it deemed "harmful information".

Beijing police did not directly name the bloggers but posted screegrabs on Thursday of particular Weibo messages the authorities claimed had been flagged by readers.

One of the messages was by soccer commentator turned writer Li Chengpeng. “This is shocking and strange ... these people came out of nowhere and attacked civilians. What is their motive?" he said.

Li then quoted a comment made by a reporter: “'[They] would never tell you what actually happened. Instead, they would lead you on to hate blindly, fear unknown fears and die without knowing the cause.'”

Tianyou, another microblogger who received a warning from police, wrote in his weibo: “Do you know why they killed people? Figuring out the cause of the attack will be more useful to tackle them with force.”

I am waiting at home for you to arrest me
Li Chengpeng, writer

Both posts were shared thousands of times and were criticised by some who said they were being sympathetic towards the Kunming attackers, identified as members of the Muslim-majority Uygur ethnic group from Xinjiang region.

Li denied he felt sympathy for the terrorists and defended his comment, defiantly saying: “I am waiting at home for you to arrest me."

“When I wrote this, no official explanation had been given about the attack, and all kinds of rumours were flying around," he wrote on Thursday.

"I was simply sad and shocked these people had died without knowing why. I even lit [virtual] candles for them on Sina Weibo."

Liberal-minded microbloggers spoke up to support Li.

“Most law enforcement people in China are illiterate about the law,” a microblogger named Yitian wrote in response to the police's warning. 

”Have they followed any legal procedures to investigate him and try him before making such allegations?” Yitian said.

The police did not respond to an inquiry sent by the South China Morning Post on Friday.

The Communist Party launched a months-long campaign against "online rumours" from August to November last year. It imposed a three-year prison term against those found spreading rumours that damaged the reputation of government officials or harmed social stability.

Hundreds of bloggers and microbloggers were detained, ranging from a 16-year-old student in Gansu province to wealthy venture capitalist Charles Xue Biqun, chilling political discourse and leading to increased self-censorship among online users.