China imprisons a blogger who allegedly slandered a dead Indian border guard

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China imprisons a blogger who allegedly slandered a dead Indian border guard
Chinese troops close to the India-China border in February. Clashes last year between the two sides left dozens dead. Photograph: AP

A Chinese court has imprisoned a popular blogger for postings implying that the death toll among Chinese soldiers in a border clash last year was higher than reported.

Qiu Ziming was one of at least six people arrested in February for online posts about a clash between Chinese and Indian troops in the Galwan Valley, a disputed border area. A tense standoff that began in May erupted into shouting matches, stone-throwing, and fistfights before culminating on June 15 in a violent bout of hand-to-hand combat with clubs and stones that killed dozens.

At least 20 soldiers were killed, according to Indian authorities, but China did not officially confirm any deaths on its side until the bestowing of posthumous honours on four soldiers in February.

Qiu, who had more than 2.5 million Weibo followers, had suggested in blog posts that the actual count might be higher than the official tally, and that a commanding officer survived “because he was the highest-ranking officer there” – a remark that

On Tuesday, he was sentenced to eight months in prison under a 2018 law that makes defamation of “heroes and martyrs” illegal. He is the first person to be imprisoned under the law, which was amended earlier this year to allow for up to three years in prison as a penalty.

The court verdict stated that Qiu had “infringed on the reputation and honour of heroes and martyrs… and confessed to his crimes.”

Qiu’s guilty plea resulted in a reduced sentence, according to the Global Times, who also stated that Qiu must apologise publicly in the media and through “major domestic portals” within 10 days. Qiu has already made a televised confession, apologising while dressed in a prison uniform on primetime CCTV.

The 38-year-old Nanjing resident was arrested in February for “picking quarrels and causing trouble,” a broadly defined crime that is frequently used against journalists and activists, who are then prosecuted through an opaque justice system with conviction rates of more than 99 percent.

The incident in Galwan Valley was the first fatal clash between the two sides since 1975, and the most serious since 1967. There were casualties on both sides, according to Indian officials at the time, but China remained tight-lipped about any details until the February honouring of four soldiers. There was hero worship in the state media, as well as a crackdown on online critics.

A teenage blogger based in another country was also targeted in the February crackdown. Wang Jingyu, 19, was accused of “slandering and belittling the heroes” and was “pursued online,” according to Chongqin city police.

Wang, a US permanent resident, attempted to fly from Istanbul to the US in April but was detained by Dubai authorities during a stopover. The case was described as a “human rights” concern by the US State Department, and he could have faced extradition to China.

According to the Associated Press, Dubai authorities gave conflicting accounts of the charges he faced. Activists claim Wang was repeatedly visited by Chinese diplomatic staff during his weeks of detention and “pressured” to sign a document authorising his deportation back to China. Late last month, he was released and returned to Turkey.

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