Press freedom organizations are condemning the detention of award-winning Chinese journalist Liu Wei, who has been held since October 8th on charges of “illegally obtaining state secrets” in connection with his coverage of a high-profile corruption case. The 37-year-old Liu Wei was arrested in Chengdu on October 8th while on his way to Beijing to attend a seminar and taken to Jiangxi province, where he is still being held in Pingxiang.
Liu Wei is an investigative reporter and deputy editor for the Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Metropolis. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are demanding his immediate release.
RSF Monday condemned his 11 day detention: “We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Liu Wei because, like Gao Yu, he is guilty of nothing more than doing his job in a professional manner and with a sense of duty,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the RSF Asia-Pacific desk.
“China is criminalizing basic reporting. The government’s interpretation of state secrets has grown so broad that it now encompasses routine criminal justice matters,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Liu Wei must be released and all criminal allegations against him dropped immediately.”
The corruption case involves a controversial master of qigong (a traditional system of exercise and meditation), Communist Party officials, businessmen and celebrities. The charge brought against Liu under article 282 of the 1997 penal codes carries a possible seven-year jail sentence.
The journalist’s arrest, which was publicized on social media on October 15th, is in connection with his coverage of Wang Lin, a martial artist from Pingxiang who was detained in July. Wang was accused of involvement in the murder of his protégé, Zou Yong, who had accused Wang of fraud, according to Xinhua. Liu reported on the allegations against Wang as well as Zou’s murder, and published documents he obtained from Wang’s ex-wife. The news website Sohu reported that Liu’s arrest could have been in connection with the documents the journalist obtained from Wang’s ex-wife, who has also been detained. The Sohu article, along with many other reports on Liu’s case, was later removed from the website.
“President Xi Jinping’s government proclaimed combatting corruption to be one of its priorities but yet again it has shown its authoritarian nature. By using a ‘state secrets’ charge to gag the source of information of public interest, Xi’s party has betrayed its real goal, which is to protect its members and prevent a new blow to its legitimacy,” Ismaïl added.
Ever since the controversial qigong master Wang Lin was arrested in a murder investigation in June, Liu had been published a devastating series of documents provided by Wang’s former wife and a police officer. According to the South China Morning Post, these two sources have been held on the same charge as Liu since September.
The requests for Liu’s release on bail that his wife and lawyer submitted on October 10th and 13th were rejected.
The official media have said nothing about Liu’s detention and the Communist Party is censoring social networks. But Southern Metropolis News, for which Liu has worked since 2009, issued a statement supporting him on October 16th. However, the outlet did not publish the statement on its own newspaper, website, mobile app, or social media accounts.
Gao Yu, a well-known journalist who was awarded UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano prize in 1997, was sentenced to seven years in prison on April 17th on the same charge of disclosing state secrets. Article 282’s vague wording allows the authorities to define any information as a state secret, even after the event.
In 2014, Liu received the “Journalist of the Year” award by the Southern Media Group which owns Southern Metropolis, for articles he wrote in 2013 about Wang.
China is ranked 176th out of 180 counties in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.