Beijing Authorities Detain Blogger for Satirical Tweet About 18th Party Congress

December 21, 2012

In early November 2012, Beijing public security officials reportedly detained businessman and prominent blogger Zhai Xiaobing for allegedly posting a joke on a social networking site about the highly anticipated 18th Party Congress. The post, which referenced the "Final Destination" horror film franchise, suggested that the Great Hall of the People would collapse on Party delegates at the upcoming event. Officials later revealed that Zhai was being investigated for "spreading terrorist information," a criminal charge that can carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. The detention—during a period of heightened sensitivity and increased censorship—sparked concern for the blogger's welfare and led to an online petition requesting Zhai’s "unconditional release."

According to a November 21, 2012, Associated Press article, public security officials in Miyun County, Beijing, detained blogger and businessman Zhai Xiaobing on November 7, after he posted a joke on November 5, mocking the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (18th Party Congress). Zhai, who blogs under the user name @stariver, posted a satirical tweet mocking the 18th Party Congress, suggesting that the political event would resemble the "Final Destination" horror film franchise. The Associated Press reports that family members said authorities seized Zhai's computer and that public security officials later revealed Zhai was being criminally detained on suspicion of "spreading terrorist information," a crime under Article 291 of China's Criminal Law which carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. Zhai's detention occurred as Chinese authorities experienced heightened sensitivity to political debate and took steps to limit free expression during the once-in-a-decade turnover of political leadership. (For more information on Internet censorship and the 18th Party Congress, please see Congressional-Executive Commission on China analysis here.)

According to a December 12, 2012, Radio Free Asia article, prominent Beijing blogger Liu Yanping reported that the Miyun County PSB Detention Center informed her that authorities released Zhai from the detention center on December 8, 2012. Liu said that Zhai's family had submitted a bail application as requested by police officials. Liu also suggested that because Zhai's family lacked experience in these circumstances, they were "easily intimidated" by authorities and were afraid to publicly discuss the incident.

English Translation of Zhai Xiaobing's Tweet

On November 5, 2012, Zhai Xiaobing posted the following satirical message on Twitter (translation provided by the CECC):

#Spoilertweet; #Proceed with Caution; Final Destination 6 is being released. The Great Hall of the People suddenly collapses, only 7 of the 2,000 plus people attending the meeting survive, yet each dies one-by-one in a bizarre fashion afterward. Is it God's game or Death's wrath? How did the mysterious number 18 open the gates of Hell? Shocking debut on November 8 in theaters worldwide!

Detention Sparks Online Petition Calling for Zhai's "Unconditional Release"

After Zhai's detention, prominent blogger Wen Yunchao, a Hong Kong media professional who blogs under the user name "Bei Feng," drafted an online petition (via Google Docs) calling on Beijing's public security personnel to release Zhai unconditionally. The petition statement requests that Beijing authorities "refrain from persecuting citizens for exercising their lawful right of free expression." According to Article 35 of the PRC Constitution, Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of the press. While Chinese law and international standards do permit restrictions on freedom of expression to protect national security or public order, the Commission has not observed any reports suggesting that Zhai's tweet was more than a sarcastic reference to the "Final Destination" film series. (For more information on expression restrictions and international standards for freedom of expression, please see pages 49–50 of the CECC 2012 Annual Report.) Despite China's Constitution and international standards, however, Chinese authorities routinely suppress speech—or harass citizens who exercise free speech rights—related to politically sensitive topics.

For more information on Freedom of Expression and the Internet, see Section III—Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2012 Annual Report.