Police in China's southern Guangdong province are detaining citizens for posting information and news reports about a government crackdown on protesters in the small fishing village of Wukan.
Huang Meijuan, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, was summoned to a police station in neighboring Shenzhen on September 14 for having forwarded reports published by Voice of America about Wukan.
The Mandarin language VOA report covers eyewitness accounts of police raids that occurred early September 13, in which sources told VOA that large numbers of armed police stormed the village, searching people’s homes and arresting more than a dozen residents. The raid triggered a series of protests in which, villagers say, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring dozens.
Upon arriving at Shenzhen police station, Huang was informed that she would be detained for 10 days for “spreading rumors” via WeChat, according to her husband, Wu Bin, who has since granted interviews with both Voice of America and its sister agency, Radio Free Asia.
WeChat is China’s most popular social media platform with more than 800 million active users.
“She is innocent," Wu told VOA on Sunday, emphasizing that neither he nor his wife had spread rumors. "She only forwarded a report from VOA. Other netizens said the report is from VOA, so she forwarded [it], and said, ‘Please forward.’ For these two words, she is being detained for 10 days."
Wu learned of his wife's detention only after she failed to return home from the police station, prompting him to go to the station. Wu subsequently posted news of her detention on social media, culminating in requests for news-media interviews, which he granted.
"Police began harassing me after that; they came to my home after 6 p.m. and summoned me to the police station,” where they also accused him of spreading rumors and warned him against discussing Wukan or accepting foreign media interviews.
"They said I had violated the law, but 'we will spare you this time because you have to take care of your child,'" he said. "'If you do it again, you will be detained.'"
Protesters in Wukan are angry about last week’s sentencing of their elected village chief, Lin Zulian, who was placed on trial for bribery after demanding compensation for land seized by Communist Party officials. Demonstrators have pledged to keep protesting until he is released from jail.
The southern coastal village gained global notice in 2011 when Lin led protests against corruption, which resulted in direct village-wide elections. Lin had organized the 2011 demonstrations against government-backed development plans that were widely believed to have short-changed villagers.
Since last week's sentencing, Chinese security officials have blocked foreign media from entering the area and detained at least four other netizens for “spreading rumors” after they posted information about the protests online. On Wednesday, several Hong Kong-based journalists were beaten and detained by Chinese police while attempting to cover the violence.
In online footage of the protests, Chinese riot police armed with rubber bullets, shields and tear gas are seen attacking demonstrators, and some reports say the violence has resulted in dozens of injuries. Municipal authorities in the area say several protest leaders have been arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly and disruption of public order.
Chinese state media news reports have quoted local business owners in Wukan who say the village is now peaceful, and that "villagers feel at ease; one can do business safely.”
Reports by independent Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, however, say the main road into the village remains blocked and that villagers are allowed to go out but not enter, and that some fishmongers who had left the region to sell their fish were blocked from going home.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service.