Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the government has cracked down on voices that criticize national heroes or question the official narrative about them.
In 2018, China passed a law that prohibits people from “insulting or defaming heroes and martyrs.” Originally a civil matter, the law will be criminalized in an amendment to the country’s criminal law, which will take effect next month. Under that amendment, people who “insult, defame or use other means to infringe on the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs and damage the public interest of society” can be imprisoned for up to three years.
The arrests underscore Beijing’s sensitivity to the border clash with India, the deadliest between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in more than 40 years.
For eight months, the Chinese military did not reveal any details about the death toll from the bloody hand-to-hand conflict with Indian troops in the Galwan Valley area of the Himalayas. New Delhi previously said that at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed during the fight.
In a propaganda campaign that followed, Chinese state media were quick to praise the five PLA soldiers for their loyalty, courage and sacrifice, publishing lengthy and emotional reports on their life stories.
State media also published Beijing’s account of 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 finally “defeated” the Indian soldiers and drove them away.
The Indian military has not responded to CNN’s request for comment. Delhi has previously blamed Beijing for the skirmish.
However, not all Chinese citizens are convinced by Beijing’s account of the incident.
On Friday morning, a popular blogger with 2.5 million followers on Weibo, similar to Twitter in China, raised questions about the official death toll, suggesting that the true figure could be higher than four. “That is why India dares to publish the number and names of its victims, because from India’s point of view, they won at a lower cost,” he wrote.
In the evening, police in the eastern city of Nanjing had arrested the blogger, identified by his surname Qiu, for “causing fights and causing trouble,” a crime commonly used by the Chinese government to target dissent and criticism.
Weibo said on Friday night that it had closed Qiu’s account, which he used to post the comments, as well as an additional account he owns.
According to the police, four Weibo users in total were detained for their posts or comments on other people’s posts. Two others were detained for their comments in group chats on WeChat, China’s popular messaging app, after other members of the group reported them to the police. The other person was caught by internet police on an “online patrol” after he posted on his personal WeChat feed.