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2021-02-22 08:01:51

Police in eastern China have arrested a blogger with more than 2.5 million followers over his illegal comments about China’s recently disclosed casualties during last year’s border skirmish with Indian troops in the disputed Galwan Valley.

In a notice Saturday, authorities in the city of Nanjing said the blogger, who uses the handle La Bi Xiaoqiu on the Twitter-like platform Weibo, had “maliciously distorted the truth” about the conflict last June and denigrated four martyrs who on Friday received posthumous commendations for their service.

The remarks by the 38-year-old man, Qiu Ziming, had an “extremely bad” impact on society, according to the police, who added that he confessed to his misconduct upon being detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Ding Jinkun, a lawyer at DeBund Law Offices in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that while China’s civil Law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs has been in effect since 2018, a person can only be criminally charged for this offence under the 11th amendment to China’s Criminal Law, which comes into effect next month.

“Conviction and sentencing should be according to the Criminal Law,” Ding said. He added that picking quarrels and provoking trouble can be punished more harshly than infringing the reputation of martyrs, at five years imprisonment compared to three.

On Friday, Weibo’s official administrator account announced that it had banned La Bi Xiaoqiu, as well as another account owned by Qiu, for one year for “slandering heroes and martyrs.” Speaking ill of people the authorities regard as national heroes has been illegal in China since April 2018, when a civil law expressly prohibiting this came into effect.

In two now-inaccessible posts from Friday, La Bi Xiaoqiu had framed the deadly conflict as a tactical video game and questioned the official number of Chinese casualties.

According to China’s Central Military Commission, five soldiers, including three officers, were gravely wounded in the standoff with Indian troops in the disputed territory along China’s mountainous western border. Four died and one recovered, the commission said, and all were honored as “border-defending heroes.”

Mocking martyrs has been a touchy subject in China since even before doing so was officially outlawed. In September 2016, a Beijing court ordered an internet celebrity and a tea company to apologize over defamatory posts about a Korean War soldier who sacrificed himself to protect his regiment.

Weeks after the 2018 civil law was enacted, China’s most popular “rage comics” brand had its social media accounts suspended over a one-minute video that poked fun at two military figures. Other platforms to have come under fire for martyr-related missteps include the short-video app Douyin — as TikTok is branded in China — and news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, both owned by internet giant ByteDance.

In the past few days, some users of Weibo, which undergoes rigorous content moderation, have suggested the one-year ban on Qiu’s accounts didn’t go far enough. Since another key opinion leader with over 1 million followers posted a poll asking whether the punishment was appropriate, too strict, or too lenient, 75% of more than 90,000 respondents have voted for the latter.

Qiu’s remarks were noted in official circles, too. On Friday, the leadership of the influential Communist Youth League shared screenshots of La Bi Xiaoqiu’s posts on Weibo, along with a single comment: “It’s a real pity official accounts can’t swear.”

Additional reporting: Du Xinyu; editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A portrait of one of the four Chinese soldiers who died in the Galwan Valley skirmish with Indian troops in June 2020. Xinhua)