China Releases Graft-Busting Journalist on 'Bail' After A Year's Detention

 A newspaper vendor talks to a customer at her booth on a street in Shanghai, Jan. 8, 2013. AFP
Chinese authorities have released an outspoken whistleblowing journalist after nearly a year in detention on "defamation" charges following his probe on a number of high-profile corruption cases.

Liu Hu, a reporter with Guangzhou's Modern Express newspaper, was released from Beijing's No. 1 Detention Center on bail, which means his release is likely to have conditions attached to it, his lawyer announced via social media on Sunday.

"I received notification from an official at the Beijing Eastern District prosecutor's office that Liu Hu is being released on bail, because they are unable to proceed with his case in the allotted timeframe," Liu's lawyer Zhou Ze wrote on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.

"I have always maintained that Liu Hu is innocent, and that his case should go no further than the procuratorate stage," Zhou added.
"Releasing Liu Hu on bail is a welcome step in the right direction."

Liu's July 2013 arrest came amid a wave of detentions linked to online "rumors" and nationwide calls for greater transparency.

He was formally arrested last October on "libel" charges.

Zhou tweeted that Liu had called him to say he was now safely at his home in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing.

Repeated calls to Zhou's cell phone rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

However, Liu's friends said he should never have been detained in the first place.


"I'm guessing that if they have been investigating him all this time without finding anything on him, that's one form of revenge,"
Shenzhen-based lawyer and friend of Liu's, Li Guobin, told RFA on Monday.

"I find it hard to imagine what they can have been investigating all this time, because Liu Hu has never committed a crime," Li said.

"This goes against all legal principles," Li added. "If he's guilty, try him. If not, release him. What's there to bail?"

Netizen @duyanpili commented online that police seemed to be showing China's already tightly controlled journalists that they too could be detained for around a year, regardless of whether they have committed a crime.

"This is pretty scary. Whether you are innocent or guilty, they can still lock you up for a year and then decide," the user wrote.

Meanwhile, Beijing Politics and Law University professor Zhang Mingze welcomed Liu's release, but called for the release of detained rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.

"At least Liu Hu is free now, although they have left themselves a loophole [to redetain him]," Zhang wrote on Sina Weibo. "But what of that other whistleblower, Pu Zhiqiang? When is he getting out?"

Top Beijing rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was also detained along with dozens of others after attending a seminar marking the Tiananmen anniversary, has been arrested for "creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information."

Liu's former colleage at the Chengdu Commercial Daily and close friend Li Jianjun said his friend is in reasonably good health, and now reunited with his family, although his daughter hadn't seen him in more than a year.

"They investigated him for 345 days, mobilised huge numbers of people to turn over every last stone, and all they succeeded in doing was proving his innocence," Li said.

"They should have let him go long ago...They shouldn't be detaining people to find out if they've done anything wrong."

"This makes me very angry," Li said. "They should have to come under scrutiny for such an abuse of power."


Li said whistleblowers should be allowed to play a key role in exposing official corruption in China.

President Xi Jinping has launched a nationwide clampdown on corruption, warning that the Communist Party must beat graft or lose power.

But police continue to detain activists who call for greater transparency, suggesting that the "anti-graft" campaign has more to do with the internal politics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party than with a genuine desire to uproot corruption.

Highly respected among his colleagues, Liu had probed a number of high-profile corruption cases, including that of Ma Zhengqi, deputy director of the National Chamber of Commerce.

Liu had also exposed the case of Shanghai High People's Court president Cui Yadong, accusing him of stealing tons of Maotai liquor, an elite tipple often drunk at official banquets, during his tenure in the southwestern province of Guizhou, netizens said, although RFA was unable to verify these claims.

Last month, the authorities also released Chen Baocheng, an investigative journalist for the cutting-edge financial magazine Caixin, after holding him in detention for nearly a year.

Chen had been detained during a land dispute in his home village in the eastern province of Shandong last August, and was accused of unlawfully imprisoning the driver of an excavator during an anti-demolition stand-off.

Chen said he was trying to stop the man from demolishing his house.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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