China withdraws accusations against whistleblower reporter

BEIJING - All criminal accusations have been dropped against a Chinese journalist who accused a senior official of wrongdoing, the reporter said Friday.

It is an unusual move in China, which has seen a crackdown on civil society under President Xi Jinping, with more than 200 lawyers and activists recently detained or called in for questioning.

Liu Hu was put under criminal investigation for defamation in 2013 after he accused former Chongqing vice mayor Ma Zhengqi of dereliction of duty in the restructuring of a state-owned company in the southwestern city, leading to losses of millions of dollars.

Under Xi the ruling Communist Party has launched a much-publicised drive against corruption within its ranks, but at the same time independent anti-graft campaigners have been prosecuted. Chinese courts are controlled by the party and have a conviction rate of 99.93 per cent.

Ma is now a deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

Liu was detained by police investigating "fabricating and spreading rumours" and was not granted bail for a year.

At the time Liu was a journalist with the News Express tabloid, but posted his comments as an individual on China's Twitter-like Weibo.

Chinese media are subject to strict official censorship.

Liu's detention came during an official crackdown on freewheeling Weibo users and prominent government critics including billionaire Chinese-American blogger Charles Xue, who was arrested for suspected involvement in prostitution and "group licentiousness".

Liu told AFP that prosecutors informed him Thursday they would not proceed with any of the three accusations against him - defamation, extortion, and "picking quarrels and making trouble" - due to a lack of evidence.

"I'm certainly happy but it is indeed a delayed result - the case was dragged out for more than two years," he told AFP.

He said he was calculating his losses and costs and would seek compensation.

Liu left the News Express late last year, but says he intends to stay in journalism.

Asked whether he would refrain from making sensitive comments online in future, Liu said: "I think everything can be done as long as it is within the legal framework and I don't violate the law." Several Chinese officials have fallen in recent years after journalists revealed their wrongdoings on the Internet.

Also in 2013, Wang Wenzhi, a journalist with the official Xinhua news agency, posted graft allegations online against Song Lin, head of state-owned conglomerate China Resources.

The Communist Party's anti-corruption watchdog announced Friday that Song had been expelled from the organisation and transferred to judicial authorities after an investigation found he had violated laws and party discipline, including by taking bribes, embezzlement and keeping a mistress.

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