A reporter who recently posted claims online about the alleged misconduct of a senior official has been detained for fabricating rumors, Beijing police announced on its Sina Weibo on Sunday.
Liu Hu, who works at the Guangzhou-based newspaper New Express, was detained at his home in Chongqing on Friday.
This coincided with news about Zhou Lubao, a self-proclaimed whistle-blower, who has been arrested for allegedly publishing negative reports online and then extorting money from those involved.
The Ministry of Public Security, which published Zhou's story on its website Sunday, said that it would be deepening its recent campaign to crack down on crimes such as fabricating and spreading rumors online and blackmailing.
When asked by the Global Times on Sunday what rumors Liu had fabricated, Zi Xiangdong, a Beijing police spokesperson, said he was not aware of the case's specifics. A post on the police's Weibo account said the case is still under investigation.
Liu's wife, Qin Ling, told the Global Times on Sunday that she received a detention notice from Beijing police on Saturday, which said Liu was detained for "creating a disturbance." His employer New Express has not provided any further information about Liu since his arrest.
On July 29, Liu posted a report to his Weibo, accusing Ma Zhengqi, a deputy head of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, of involvement in a deal that allegedly caused a vast loss of State assets when Ma was an official in Chongqing.
Liu's lawyer Zhou Ze told the Global Times that he believes Liu's detention is related to his online whistle-blowing about Ma, as his Weibo account was suspended soon after.
Zhou said that in such a case, it was wrong for the police to detain him for "causing a disturbance," also known as "defiance and affray."
The crime refers to beating and threatening others or seriously disrupting public order, neither of which apply to Liu, Zhou said.
When posting about Ma, Liu wrote that he had been inspired by Luo Changping, a deputy editor-in-chief of news magazine Caijing, whose revelations in December successfully brought down Liu Tienan, the now disgraced former head of the National Energy Administration.
But Liu Hu has not provided as powerful evidence to prove Ma was directly involved in the scandal.
Some are worried that the recent arrests of active Weibo bloggers may scare people away from social networking platforms. However, experts countered that these are lessons that will ensure people are careful about speaking the truth and abiding by the law.
Zhang Zhi'an, an associate professor with the School of Communication and Design, Sun Yat-sen University, said the public should not simply link Liu's arrest to the reports about Ma until the police give more information.
Hong Daode, a law professor with the China University of Political Science and Law, suggested that people should report corruption cases through the websites of relevant authorities.
"If they report officials' misconduct on their own Weibo accounts or other online forums, they can easily become involved in fabricating or spreading rumors if untrue information is present," Hong said. "Real-name whistle-blowing doesn't mean people can't cause trouble or can speak without taking responsibility for their words."
According to reports, Zhou, who was arrested by police in Suzhou, Jiangsu on August 9, had extorted more than 1 million yuan ($163,400) since 2011 out of people or organizations in the form of hush money for negative reports, such as stating certain temples harbored fake monks.