BEIJING When China admitted this year that four of its soldiers had died fighting Indian forces on the disputed mountainous border of the two countries eight months earlier, irreverent blogger Little Spicy Pen Ball had questions.
“If the four [Chinese] soldiers died trying to save their comrades, then there must be those who were not successfully saved ”. he wrote February 19 to its 2.5 million subscribers on Weibo, a Chinese social media site. “It means the dead couldn’t have been just four.”
The next day, Qiu Ziming, the 38-year-old former journalist behind the blog, was arrested and charged with criminal charges. If found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to three years.
“Little Spicy Pen Ball slandered and degraded the heroes defending our country and the border,” according to the annual work report released by the country’s chief prosecutor’s office this month.
A contrite Qiu, seated behind bars, called his actions “oblivion of consciousness” in a film declaration aired on March 1 on the public channel’s prime-time news program.
Qiu is the first case to be judged under a sweep new criminal law which took effect on March 1. The new law punishes “attack on the reputation and honor of revolutionary heroes”. At least six other people were arrested or charged with defamation of “martyrs”. The government uses the terms “revolutionary heroes” and “martyrs” for all those it commemorates for their sacrifice for the Communist Party.
The detentions characterize tighter controls on online speech under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which have deterred almost any open dissent in the country. The new law even seeks to criminalize speeches made outside of China.
Such is the case of 19-year-old Wang Jingyu, who lives in the United States and is now wanted in his hometown of Chongqing, China. Authorities accuse him of slandering the dead Chinese soldiers after Weibo denounced him for a comment questioning the death toll of border fighting.
“It’s killing a monkey to scare the chickens,” Wang said. “The Chinese state wants to show others that if someone wants to be like me or pass on the truth, then you will be prosecuted.”
A 2018 law allows the police to investigate speech defaming the martyrs. Several people were arrested as a result, according to an online spreadsheet guarded by a free speech activist, but such behavior has not resulted in jail time so far.
“Cyberspace is not outside the law,” says Chongqing Public Security Bureau mentionned in an online review after saying Wang would be “sued online” for his comments. “Public security organs will suppress acts which openly insult the acts and spirits of heroes and martyrs in accordance with the law.”
It is not known how the authorities plan to apprehend Wang. A policeman who contacted Wang, asking him to surrender, did not respond to calls and texts from NPR.
The ruling Communist Party in China is hyper-sensitive to the challenges of its power. One of the most recent threats she has identified is “historical nihilism”, that is, rejecting the official version of the party’s history and its pantheon of revolutionary heroes and martyrs.
The four Chinese soldiers who died during the clash of borders Last June are the new members of this canon. They were killed in the heights of the Himalayas, where hundreds of Chinese and Indian soldiers armed with stones and batons fought each other in bloody ways, each side accusing the other of suspected border encroachments. unmarked. Days after the incident, India said 20 of its soldiers died in the scuffle.
China refused to confirm the deaths on its side until February, when it released the names of four soldiers killed and a fifth who was seriously injured in the disputed Galwan Valley region. State media ran extended images of their service and the last hours of their life.
The sudden media blitz infuriated Wang, he said. He had closely followed border tensions between China and India and wondered about the initial lack of deaths reported by China. He wonders about the families of the soldiers he suspects of having died, left in silence in the absence of official recognition.
At the end of February, while sitting in the backseat of a friend’s car in Europe, Wang paced back and forth for half an hour to find out whether to write something online. He currently lives in California, but his parents stay in the Chinese Municipality of Chongqing, where they worked for two state-owned companies.
“I knew that if I made fun of these soldiers, it would have a negative impact on my parents,” Wang said. “But I was too angry.” He insisted on posting three comments under a newspaper article praising the four Chinese troops.
People’s Liberation Army soldiers “deserved to die,” he wrote, and Indian forces were entitled to confront their “delinquents”. Wang now admits the comments were offensive, but says he deliberately designed them to push the boundaries of speech in China.
His comments went viral and appeared on China’s most-watched evening news program. Soon after, Wang said that her parents were interrogated for hours by police officers.
The Chongqing Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
In the days following his social media posts, Wang said his mother and father were under house arrest at their home in Chongqing, where they were able to call Wang twice, briefly, under police surveillance. . He hasn’t been able to reach them since.
“They told me that they were supportive of me and that they were proud of me,” Wang said.
Amy Cheng contributed to the Beijing research.