Chinese prosecutors formally charged a popular social media influencer with “defaming martyrs” on Monday, for suggesting the death toll of the China-India border clash was higher than the official count of four.
The blogger, listed in the indictment by his surname Qiu, was charged under a newly added provision to China’s criminal law that bans the “defamation of martyrs and heroes” and came into effect Monday.
Qiu had more than 2.5 million followers on the Twitter-like platform Weibo under the pseudonym “Crayon Ball”.
He was initially detained February 19 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and causing trouble”, a catch-all charge often levelled against dissidents.
He “severely harmed the dignity of the national border garrison and the soldiers’ image, and harmed the common interests of society,” read the indictment from prosecutors in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province.
If convicted, Qiu faces up to three years in prison.
Last month, China confirmed for the first time that four soldiers were “sacrificed” in a June brawl with Indian forces, which triggered an outpouring of grief and patriotism in state media and online.
More than 20 Indian soldiers died in the same clash in the contested Galwan Valley border area, a conflict which China has repeatedly alleged India started.
Crayon Ball wrote last month that, since the dead soldiers were honoured as “rescuers”, “there were more who weren’t saved, so there weren’t only four dead”.
“This is why India dared to announce the names and cause of death of their casualties first. In India’s view, they won at less cost,” he wrote.
His account has since been deleted. The hashtag “Crayon Ball has been arrested” had been viewed 360 million times on Weibo by late Monday.
Since last month, China has arrested at least six for allegedly defaming the dead soldiers in online comments, highlighting the political sensitivity of the border clash.
Beijing passed a law in 2018 that made a civil offence of “defamation of martyrs and heroes”, including war-time heroes idolised in Communist Party history as well as modern-day figures such as fallen firefighters and soldiers.
The new amendment makes it a criminal offence.
Another 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas is under investigation by police in the southwestern city of Chongqing for making defamatory remarks about the dead soldiers on Weibo.
Police said last month the man was under “online pursuit” and would be detained, without giving specifics of how they would reach him.