Chinese police have detained a number of people in recent weeks for making online comments said to be "insulting" to police officers online.
Police in the southwestern region of Guangxi said they had detained a man surnamed Jiang on Monday who posted under the handle "Changchun Social Sister" on the comments section of a social media post about a police officer in the northeastern city of Harbin who died in the course of his duty.
According to the city police department in Guangxi's Nanning, Jiang had "confessed to insulting a police officer" after he commented on the story.
Meanwhile, police in Beijing and Guangzhou had launched a joint operation to find and arrest a user with the handle lukehcen0 commented that "anyone who kills a police officer is a hero," the state-run Legal Evening News reported.
The man was taken in for questioning on Saturday on orders from the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing, it said.
Harbin police officer Qu Yuquan, was attacked after being called to a brawl at a karaoke bar on last Friday and later died from his injuries in hospital, the police said via social media.
In total, six people have been arrested in recent weeks for "insulting a police officer," according to a social media post from police in the eastern province of Shandong.
They included a steel mill manager surnamed Zhao from the central province of Henan, detained for "slandering the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party and the People's Police," and a resident of Tieling in the northeastern province of Liaoning who is accused of hurling "abuse" at dead traffic policeman Luo Zhenbo via his account on the WeChat smartphone app.
"Another dog dies, great! That's one less of them," the man, identified only by his surname Zhang, allegedly commented on the local traffic police WeChat channel.
Zhang was handed a 10-day administrative sentence for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" for the comment, the post said.
And a user with the handle Xiaohuataba was also recently detained for similar reasons, it said, without giving details.
‘Projection of police power’
Lawyer Qian Zhaomai said he doesn't believe the comments amount to a criminal charge.
"I don't think you can say that this constitutes picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," he said. "Normally, if somebody is arrested for verbally abusing a police officer in public, they are charged with obstructing an officer in the course of their duty."
"I don't think that online abuse [amounts to the same thing] ... because the law says that you have to show that the actions had serious consequences," Qian said. "I think the main thing is that this shows us the level of public rancor towards the police."
Online activist Huang Yongxiang said the moves are likely intended to project police power to intimidate the population.
"This is definitely a projection of police power, who devote huge amounts of manpower to limiting freedom of speech," Huang said.
He said the move is likely an attempt to suppress public criticism of the police following a series of high-profile deaths in police custody.
"The public image of the police has been very poor, especially in the past couple of years," Huang said. "The police are trying to use intimidation to protect themselves, especially those working on the front line."
Harbin rights activist Sun Dongsheng said there is now a nationwide operation afoot to remove any dissenting voices from the public sphere in China.
"There is no rule of law in this country, which is ruled by a bandit regime," Sun said. "They can destroy people at will."
"They stamp out any signs of dissent the moment they appear," he said. "They have all the power, the guns and artillery, and there is no such thing as law enforcement anymore."
"There's just the Communist Party's private army of thugs," he said.
Growing climate of fear
Zhejiang rights activist Wu Bin said there is a growing climate of fear around what people post online.
"There's no sense of safety with online expression anymore," Wu said. "The police can just come and take you away whenever they like."
"It's like living in North Korea, things are that ridiculous now," he said.
He said he didn't believe the reported comments had incited violence against the police.
"They were just expressing their opinion, that the police are no good," Wu said. "Everyone should have the right to express their views."
He said there are no clear definitions of what constitutes an "insult."
"Does this mean that anyone who doesn't praise [the police] is insulting them?" Wu said. "I totally disagree with that."
Hebei-based veteran journalist Zhu Xinxin said he disagreed with what lukehcen0 had written.
"Everyone's life is of equal value, and actually China's police force are in a very awkward position, expected to protect the public on the one hand and at the same time to act as the political tools of a dictatorial regime," Zhu said.
"Yes, they have done a lot of bad things and ... everyone agrees that they have far too much power with not enough checks and balances," he said.
"These comments are definitely representative of some public opinion, but I think it's important to separate our criticism of individual police officers from the system they serve," Zhu said. "They shouldn't be regarded as the same thing."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Lee Lai for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.