Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the government has suppressed voices that criticize national heroes or question the official narrative about them.
In 2018, China passed a law that prohibits people from “insulting or slandering heroes and martyrs”. Originally a civil issue, the law will be considered a crime in an amendment to the country’s criminal law, which takes effect next month. According to this amendment, people who “insult, slander or use other means to infringe the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs and harm the public interest of society” can be imprisoned for up to three years.
The arrests emphasize Beijing’s sensitivity to the border conflict with India – the deadliest of the two nuclear-armed neighbors in more than 40 years.
For eight months, the Chinese military has not released any details on the death toll in the bloody hand-to-hand conflict with Indian troops in the Galwan valley area of the Himalayas. New Delhi said earlier that at least 20 Indian soldiers died during the fight.
In an ensuing propaganda campaign, Chinese state media rushed to praise the five PLA soldiers for their loyalty, worth and sacrifice, publishing long and emotional accounts of their life stories.
State media also published Beijing’s report on the event, blaming Indian troops for violating an agreement with China and crossing the border to the Chinese side to set up tents. According to the PLA Daily, the Chinese side was initially outnumbered by Indian troops who attacked with steel pipes, clubs and stones. But when PLA reinforcements arrived, they eventually “defeated” Indian soldiers and expelled them.
The Indian military did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. Delhi had already blamed Beijing for the conflict.
However, not every Chinese citizen is convinced by Beijing’s report of the incident.
On Friday morning, a popular blogger with 2.5 million followers on China’s Weibo, similar to Twitter, raised questions about the official death toll, suggesting that the actual number could be more than four. “That is why India dares to disclose the numbers and names of its victims, because from India’s point of view, they have won at a lower cost,” he wrote.
At night, police in the eastern city of Nanjing arrested the blogger, identified by his surname Qiu, for “provoking fights and causing problems” – an offense commonly used by the Chinese government to fight dissent and criticism.
Weibo said on Friday night that it closed Qiu’s account, which he used to post comments, as well as an additional account he owns.
According to the police, four Weibo users in total were arrested for their posts or comments on other people’s posts. Two others were arrested for their comments in group conversations on WeChat, China’s popular messaging app, after other group members reported them to the police. The other person was caught by the Internet police on an “online patrol” after he posted to his personal WeChat feed.