Blog comments lead to terror probe against Chinese rock singer

BEIJING –- A prominent Chinese rock singer’s acerbic taunts about bombing government offices following a real airport bombing in Beijing this month have led police to detain her on terrorism charges, although she could be free within 10 days.

Rock singer Wu Hongfei, the 38-year-old lead singer of the group Happy Avenue and a frequent government critic, was taken into custody more than a week ago, after she took to her microblog in the hours following a July 20 explosion at the capital airport, caustically saying she’d like to set off an explosion at Beijing’s local housing commission office. On Wednesday, police were set to pursue charges against her for spreading threats of terrorism.

The case has set off a debate in China over free speech versus harmful threats, particularly focused on where the line should be drawn online.

The airport bomber, Ji Zhongxing, a 34-year-old former motorcycle taxi driver who has spent eight years trying to draw attention to the police beating that left him permanently disabled, was charged in the explosion that wounded only him. Ji, who faces up to 10 years in prison, reportedly distributed leaflets about his plight and waved bystanders away from his wheelchair before detonating homemade charges in Beijing's main airport terminal.

In a series of caustic posts following Ji’s bombing, the singer Wu posted about places she wants to bomb, including specific government offices and an unidentified person. Wu’s lawyer, Chen Jiangang, said the comments were never serious and cannot be taken as such. Chen posted online updates on the case until his Weibo microblog account was deleted on Wednesday. By phone, Chen said his client should be entitled to legal protection as it was obvious her online comments were mocking, not malicious.

"Wu Hongfei is definitely not guilty, as she has freedom of speech,” said Chen. “She shouldn't be arrested, summoned to the court or interrogated. The 130 words of Weibo comments she posted could not provoke troubles or disturb the social order."

Later in the day, Chen refused to say what was happening with his client’s case, but one Chinese media outlet reported she was only under administrative detention and likely would be freed within 10 days.

The case is another test of China’s tolerance for critical speech on the Internet. State-run media outlets have condemned Wu’s outburst, likening it to terrorist threats.

“We support the actions taken by the police which will enhance the stature of the law,” the Global Times newspaper wrote on Wu’s detention. “They will also send signals to the public opinion environment.”

Her fans, meanwhile, have defended the singer, saying it’s clear she was not going to bomb anyone. Human rights groups have said Wu was targeted for her ongoing criticism of government.


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