In case you didn’t see it, Roland Soong at ESWN has translated a news item on a Hainan pharmaceutical worker who was detained for nine months on charges of re-posting an essay online. The facts are not in dispute–on a pharmaceutical industry discussion forum, Zhang Zhijian had reposted an essay that he found online describing alleged fraud between another pharmaceutical company and the State Food and Drug Administration. He’d heard rumors about the situation, and indeed company and state officials were eventually arrested. But all Zhang did was search online, locate a relevant essay (we never find out who wrote the essay), and re-post it.
What happened next indicates the fragile legal status of basic online activity in China, and how that legal ambiguity can result in the criminalization of pretty much anything. Zhang became the target of the subject of the article, Kongliyuan Enterprises, which dragged him into legal and media battles, accusing him of deliberately seeking to damage their commercial reputation. Kongliyuan made three extraordinary demands of him: that his parents travel across the country to apologize in person to Kongliyuan; that he personally admit fault on the Internet; and that he compensate them with 100,000 RMB for their expenses! What’s even more extraordinary is that these charges resulted in Zhang being formally arrested and detained for nine months while the allegations made their way through court.