Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained a Web forum editor after he reposted a Internet forum message alleging that local prosecution officials had used the services of prostitutes.
Shang Laicheng, 35, who works for a website based in the Guangdong city of Foshan, is now the subject of a police investigation and has been placed on leave from work for passing on a message posted by another person on the company's forums, a colleague said.
"We have arranged for him to take leave, so he doesn't have to come to work," said a colleague surnamed Xie at the Tiantian news and forum website, www.ttx.cn.
Shang was formally detained on Feb. 18
under Article 61 of China's criminal procedure law, on suspicion of "spreading
false information and entrapment," according to the Guangzhou-based
Southern Metropolis News. The article lays out provisions under which a criminal suspect could be detained by security agencies.
"He is currently being held at the Chancheng district detention center in Foshan city," the paper quoted an official police notice to his family as saying.
The offending message on one of Tiantian's forums, which Shang merely retweeted, said that two Chancheng district prosecutors were offered services by prostitutes at a sauna in the city.
"[They] were caught naked by police from the Zumiao district police station...but the two were driving around and strolling the streets the next day," the post said.
"Our sisters are still suffering," it added.
Shang was released from the detention center on Wednesday, and told a joint news conference with his company boss in Foshan that he hadn't intended to spread "misinformation."
"I never thought I could be punished with detention," he told reporters, adding that he would pursue a judicial review and compensation for his treatment at the hands of police.
Xie said it was still unclear when, or if, Shang would return to work. "His computer and personal items are all at the police station right now," he said.
He said the company would be carrying out its own inquiry into the posting of the message. "As for how it gets dealt with, there has been no formal announcement yet from our leaders," he said.
"But there will definitely be an internal disciplinary procedure," he added. "We will definitely be asking other forum managers not to pass on any information that has not been confirmed."
But he said confirmation of Internet information was problematic for online editors. "People who manage websites have no way of knowing if a lot of things they see online are true or false."
Shang's arrest has sparked concern among Chinese netizens, who have called for an independent probe into whether or not the report is true.
The Southern Metropolis
Daily said Chancheng district officials
had already said the report was false, and that police had accused Shang
of being the post's original author.
Hangzhou-based veteran journalist and blogger Zan Aizong said Shang technically shouldn't be charged with libel if his post hadn't named any individuals.
"If you criticize an individual and damage their reputation and good name, then that person can sue you [in a civil court]," he said. "If you don't name anyone, and you can just be arrested and held for a few days, then that is abuse of official power."
He said the number of netizens suffering official retaliation and punishment for tweets and retweets via forums and microblogging platforms had risen sharply in the past year.
In 2010, a woman in Henan was sentenced to a term in labor camp after posts she shared upset local authorities. Cheng Jianping, of Xinxiang city, served one year of "re-education through labor" for "disturbing social order" by retweeting posts with anti-Japanese rhetoric.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.