Overseas commenter among those targeted by China for social media posts about ‘hero’ deaths at India border

Kristin Huang
·4-min read

Several Chinese citizens have been detained for making what the authorities deemed to be inappropriate remarks about soldiers who died in a clash at the China-India border last year.

At least seven people have been punished or investigated, including one individual outside China, under a Chinese law passed three years ago that banned acts diminishing “heroes and martyrs”. The law has been criticised as being a means of silencing people for questioning the official narrative.

It came after China revealed on Friday that four soldiers from its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been killed and one seriously wounded during a bloody hand-to-hand battle with Indian troops on the countries’ disputed border last June.

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State media outlets have released videos propagating the soldiers’ loyalty and sacrifice, while the PLA has described them as heroes and blamed India for the casualties, saying it broke border agreements.

A 19-year-old man surnamed Wang was the only person known to have been targeted for comments he made overseas, after his remarks on the Twitter-like Chinese platform Weibo, which were reported to police in the southwestern Chongqing region on Sunday, were deemed “slanderous and mocking heroic border officers”.

Police said Wang had been “pursued online” for the alleged offence of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a broadly defined offence often used to stifle dissent. It was not immediately clear how Wang would be detained for the offence after police said he had lived outside China since July 2019.

A 40-year-old man surnamed Tian was investigated on Sunday in the city of Maoming in the southern Guangdong province for “illegal remarks that defame heroes who defended the Chinese border”.

His remarks were made in an unspecified WeChat group and reported to police by people in the group, according to a notice released on Monday, which did not disclose the words Tian used.

“Heroes should not be desecrated,” the notice read. “Cyberspace is not a lawless place. Any acts of blatantly slandering and insulting heroes will be severely punished in accordance with the law.”

Also on Sunday, a 25-year-old man surnamed Yang turned himself in to the police after he defamed the soldiers, according to a notice from police in the city of Mianyang in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

It said Yang had used derogatory terms when making comments on Weibo that implied the soldiers were not heroes, and had been reported by other Weibo users to the local police.

“Due to pressures from the police, Yang … voluntarily went to a police station and confessed to his illegal remarks on the internet,” the notice said.

Yang was the third Chinese citizen to “voluntarily” confess to the police for making defamatory remarks against the dead soldiers, according to Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

On Saturday, a Weibo user surnamed Qiu, who has 2.4 million followers, was arrested for making remarks that “distorted facts, defamed five soldiers who defended the Chinese border, and have led to severely negative social impacts”, according to a notice from police in the eastern city of Nanjing.

China-India border dispute: its origins and impact

Qiu wrote on Weibo that “all the four solider who died were in the process of rescuing [the colonel]. Now that the rescue team have all died, it’s clear evidence that the rescue effort failed, and there must be more people dead”.

The notice said that Qiu, whose Weibo account was later deregistered, had confessed his wrongdoing to the police and been detained for “picking quarrels”.

On Monday, police in Qinhuangdao city in the northern Hebei province said a 20-year-old man surnamed Tang had been put under 15 days’ administrative detention after being reported for making undisclosed remarks on Weibo about the soldiers. He was the sixth person caught breaking the law with comments about the border casualties, according to state media.

In 2018, China’s top legislature passed a law to protect the reputation of “heroes and martyrs”, ban activities that defame them or their deeds, and promote patriotism.

The law drew accusations of trying to rewrite history in the Communist Party’s favour.

Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng

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