HUMAN RIGHTS

Jailed and refused bail, Chinese investigative journalist detained after exposing high profile corruption scandal

Liu Wei detained on October 8, after series of articles exposing corruption of a high-profile qigong master, celebrities and party officials; news of detention censored on digital platforms but spread by journalists on social media

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 4:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 October, 2015, 6:13pm

The detention of respected investigative reporter Liu Wei on suspicion of allegedly illegally obtaining state secrets has sparked concerns among mainland journalists over their work responsibilities and safety.

Liu, 37, deputy director of the Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis News, was detained by police in the city of Pingxiang, in Jiangxi province, on October 8, his newspaper confirmed on Friday night. He reportedly "disappeared" at Chengdu airport, in Sichuan province.

His newspaper said on Friday that it had contacted Jiangxi police on October 9 to insist Liu had always carried out his normal duties, but a request for him to be bailed was refused.

Qiao Mu, dean of Beijing Foreign Studies University's Centre of International Communication Studies, said he feared the detention of journalists could become a widespread crackdown, similar to the recent detentions of numerous lawyers.

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"Both media professionals and academia are shocked," Qiao said. "It is a sign of further limits on reporting and citizens' rights to know such information."

Most reports of Liu's detention were quickly censored on digital platforms on Friday, but only after many journalists had shared the news on social media.

Liu's articles, revealing the links between controversial self proclaimed qigong master Wang Lin and celebrities, business people and party cadres, are believed to have led to his detention.

His comprehensive coverage of the scandal, which sparked widespread social media discussion, began in 2013 after several celebrities accused Wang of charging exorbitant fees for medical fees and also claim that he had no medical expertise.

In July Wang was detained when he was caught up in a kidnapping and murder investigation by Jiangxi police when one of his disciples — a Jiangxi provincial legislator — was found dead.

Anonymous sources cited by mainland media claimed Wang had ordered the killing.

Soon after Wang's detention, Southern Metropolis News published several documents it said were signed by Wang — allegedly showing he had ordered the surveillance and detention of the dead man — that had been given to Liu by Wang's family. 

Later, it was revealed the documents handed to Liu were bought from a police officer by Wang's former wife. The officer and Wang's former wife are reported to have been detained since September on suspicion of illegally obtaining state secrets.

Liu's detention, after obtaining the documents was typical of many cases, said a source involved in the case, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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"Journalists often receive documents like this and it's illogical that Liu would have known it was unreasonable for a wife to possess documents signed by her husband," the source said.

"If it had happened a few years ago he would not have been held; now we're in an era when it's becoming commonplace to detain journalists."

Calls to Pingxiang's public security bureau, which issued the order for Liu's detention, went unanswered yesterday.