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Chinese Netizens Get Revenge On Official Who Arrested 16-Year-Old Blogger

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, September 25 2013

This picture of Yang flashing the victory sign is being retweeted by a number of netizens on Weibo (screenshot/Weibo)

The Chinese authorities like to push their boundaries when it comes to policing the Internet. We know they tell media outlets what they can and cannot write, set up an online platform where they could debunk rumors and deny official wrongdoing, and operate possibly the most sophisticated online surveillance and censorship apparatus in the world. Recently the government began a crackdown on online rumormongering that has resulted in hundreds of arrests. It was the arrest of of 16-year-old boy in the Gansu Province that was one step too far for Chinese netizens. The online outrage and activism that followed the arrest eventually led to the boy's release, and to the subsequent suspension of the police chief who oversaw the boy's detention.

Yang Zhong (whose microblog handle is Yang Hui) was arrested last Tuesday after refuting the official statement regarding a local scandal involving a suspicious suicide at a karaoke club owned by a local judicial official. The New York Times reported that Yang questioned the official account of the suicide online, addressing the owner of the club: “You don’t want the world to know what happened? What are you afraid of? I am not afraid of you. I took pictures, arrest me. I dare you.”

Well, the authorities took him at his word and arrested him for “spreading rumours [sic], inciting mass demonstrations and seriously obstructing social order.”

Chinese netizens were outraged by his arrest. Beijing lawyer Zhou Ze told the New York Times, “With the arrest of this kid, I think the public saw this rumor campaign for what it really is: a devious attempt to crush normal online expression.”

Zhou advocated for the boy on his own Sina Weibo account. Other netizens, according to the Guardian, started digging up dirt on the officials responsible, a tactic known as a human flesh search.

Netizens found a party chief sporting luxury watches that should have been far outside his means. Then came the most damning evidence of all: court documents showing that police chief Bai Yongqiang was accused of giving thousands of dollars in bribes to his former boss. In a victory for the netizens, Bai has been suspended from his job, according to the government's website.

ABOVE: This tweet from 'YangYu Lai LuShi' admonishes the school, saying it lacked integrity for allowing the police to arrest the student while in class.

Yang appears to have taken both his brush with authorities and with Internet fame in stride. He was supposed to participate in a live online interview with other Sina Weibo members—imagine one of Reddit's “Ask Me Anything” but in China—however, the exchange was cut off moments after starting. Only a short while later, Yang's Weibo account vanished, as well, though it appears the boy's account is now back online.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.