Internet petition for Chinese blogger arrested after posting Twitter joke about Communist leadership congress
China has arrested a Beijing blogger for joking on Twitter about the 18th Communist party congress, suggesting a horror movie scenario involving the Great Hall of the People (pictured) collapsing on delegates.
Chinese internet users are rallying around a Beijing blogger detained by police after posting a joke on Twitter about the pivotal Communist Party congress.
Chinese authorities have been especially sensitive to dissent about the party meeting, which last week ushered in a new generation of leaders. Activists were sent out of Beijing beforehand, and police rounded up hundreds of people who tried to draw the central authorities' attention to grievances against local governments.
Zhai Xiaobing's tweet on 5 November suggested that the next "movie" in the "Final Destination" horror franchise would be about the Great Hall of the People collapsing on party delegates.
He tweeted: "An earthshaking debut will be seen at the global premiere on Nov 8!" The congress began on 8 November.
After Zhai's Twitter account fell silent for a few days, a friend of his, Liu Yanping, grew worried and visited his home in Miyun county in Beijing's north-eastern suburbs. Family members there told her that Miyun county police had taken Zhai away on 7 November and seized his computer, Liu said.
A Miyun county police officer who would only give his surname, Sun, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Zhai was being investigated for "spreading terrorist information". The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.
Zhai's supporters say the allegation is absurd and more than 400 people have signed an online petition calling on police to release him – and to have more of a sense of humour.
"I was very shocked when I realised what happened to him. I've consulted a few lawyers and I feel that it's clear his Twitter joke does not amount to spreading terrorist information," Liu said. "It's just preposterous."
Liu said she and a few other activists have been in touch with Zhai's family and would help hire a lawyer. She said state security officials had visited Zhai's wife to warn her to keep a low profile.
Zhai's wife, when reached by phone, declined to comment on her husband's situation.
The online petition, written by the outspoken blogger and free-speech advocate Wen Yunchao, urges the authorities to lighten up.
"We solemnly request that Beijing police find a little sense of humour and not make a big deal out of nothing," it said. "In particular, do not destroy the goodwill and anticipation the public has for the new office holders after the 18th party congress by limiting and persecuting an ordinary citizen's normal freedom of speech in such a groundless fashion."
Further inquiries were directed to the Beijing Public Security Bureau, which did not immediately respond to a faxed list of questions.
A rights group said Zhai's case could be seen as a test of whether China's incoming leaders will continue the recent steady crackdown authorities have imposed on the country's small community of activists, dissidents and lawyers.
"The new leadership has two choices: continue down the path of criminal prosecution to signal that they are unwilling to change, or release Zhai to show goodwill that it is responding to popular demands for greater freedom," said Maya Wang, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Hong Kong.