2016-09-07 09:32:35

The proprietor of a small convenience store in Shenzhen, a city in southern China’s Guangdong province, has become the center of a dispute between the city’s police and public prosecutors.

Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Wednesday that grocer Pang Hailin had been arrested because he sold salt that did not contain iodine, as is required by government regulations. But the procuratorate, the report went on to say, later denied the police’s arrest application.

Pang told The Paper that two plainclothes policemen came to his shop to buy salt on Aug. 20 and took him back to the station because the salt he had for sale was iodine-less. An official arrest document was produced the next day stating that Pang had been arrested for “preparing to commit a crime, committing a crime, or being caught after committing a crime.”

Pang said he wasn’t aware that his salt did not contain iodine because the packaging said it did. Of the 54 bags of salt he bought from a wholesaler, he had already sold 26.

When police test results came out on Aug. 26, the conclusion was that Pang’s salt did not contain iodine, but also that it was free of toxins. The police applied to the procuratorate, the public prosecutor’s office, to officially arrest Pang. However, the procuratorate rejected the application on Sept. 2.

Pang, who had been in custody for 13 days, was released on bail. Both the police and procuratorate could not be reached for comment.

Pang Kun, Pang’s lawyer and of no relation to his client, said Pang’s actions do not constitute a crime and that his case should be dismissed. “An administrative penalty for Pang violating the salt regulation is enough,” said Pang Kun.

To battle widespread iodine deficiency — which can lead to brain development issues in unborn children — China began adding iodine to salt in 1995. The sale of salt without iodine requires official permission. According to Shenzhen’s salt industry regulations, illegal sale of non-iodized salt can lead to “confiscation of the illegal salt and a fine of 1,000 to 30,000 yuan ($150 – $4,500).”

Fu Jian, a lawyer at Yulong Law Firm based in Henan province, central China, also agreed that the charges should be dropped. Fu told Sixth Tone that the fact that Pang’s salt is toxin-free means Pang hasn’t committed a crime. “The police should not have detained Pang before the test result was released,” he said, adding that consequently, Pang would be eligible to apply for government compensation.

(Header image: William Whitehurst/Corbis-RM/VCG)