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BEIJING — When China acknowledged this year that four of its soldiers had died fighting Indian forces on the two countries’ disputed mountain border eight months prior, the irreverent blogger Little Spicy Pen Ball had questions.
“If the four [Chinese] soldiers died trying to rescue their fellow soldiers, then there must have been those who were not successfully rescued,” he wrote on Feb. 19 to his 2.5 million followers on Weibo, a Chinese social media site. “This means the fatalities could not have just been four.”
The day after, Qiu Ziming, the 38-year-old former newspaper journalist behind the blog, was detained and criminally charged. If convicted, he faces a sentence of up to three years.
“Little Spicy Pen Ball maliciously slandered and degraded the heroes defending our country and the border,” according to the annual work report published by the country’s chief prosecutor office this month.
A contrite Qiu, sitting behind bars, called his actions “an obliteration of conscience” in a taped statement aired on the state broadcaster’s prime-time news show on March 1.
Qiu’s is the first case to be tried under a sweeping new criminal law that took effect March 1. The new law penalizes “infringing on the reputation and honor of revolutionary heroes.” At least six other people have been detained or charged with defaming “martyrs.” The government uses the terms “revolutionary heroes” and “martyrs” for anyone it memorializes for their sacrifice for the Communist Party.
The detentions typify the stricter controls over online speech under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which have deterred nearly all open dissent in the country. The new law even seeks to criminalize speech made outside China.
Such is the case of Wang Jingyu, 19, who lives in the United States and is now a wanted man in his hometown of Chongqing, China. The authorities accuse him of slandering dead Chinese soldiers after Weibo reported him for a comment questioning the number of border fight casualties.