CHINA - A citywide crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan, Guangdong province, has led to controversy after two young lovers were mistakenly detained as sex workers.
The accidental arrest occurred in Changping county on Sunday evening when Dongguan police broke into a "spa club" and accused the couple inside, who locked the door while the police approaching, of illicit sex, according to report on local newspaper Xinkuaibao on Monday.
After taking the suspects to a nearby police station for questioning, police confirmed the "suspected sex worker and client" were, in fact, a boyfriend and girlfriend.
The mistake stirred up intense debate online, and the news has been forwarded more than 1,000 times since being posted on Sina Weibo, China's largest micro blog platform, by Monday morning and more than 200 micro bloggers had shared their comments.
A micro blogger named "adrian 2046" tweeted "If the police continue 'defending the public security' like this, how would legal couples dare to enjoy romance together in a hotel room?" Another Weibo user "HappyZhangjiang" forwarded the news and commented "Anyone still want to spend a night with lover in hotel on the Valentine's Day?"
The anti-prostitution campaign, which involved 6,525 police officers, was launched by Dongguang police on Sunday night after a China Central Television (CCTV) undercover report revealed the city's rampant prostitution business in massage parlours, hotels and karaoke clubs.
Sixty-seven people involved in sex trade were arrested and 12 entertainment venues offering illegal services were shut down in the campaign, local police said.
All local police station chiefs who were in charge of the districts where the illicit entertainment venues were operating have been suspended pending further investigation.
According to China's Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security, prostitutes and customers are subject to detention and fines. Organizers are subject to criminal penalties.
Despite the expressions of public support, some comments online claimed the police should have taken a softer approach.
In 2010, Dongguan police paraded arrested sex workers on the street to humiliate them. At that time, pictures were released of female suspects handcuffed in hotel rooms without wearing dresses in front of media.
The action was criticised by the public and by the Ministry of Public Security.
By Monday afternoon, almost 90,000 micro bloggers have tweeted on the topic of "Dongguang hold on!" on Sina Weibo. Most of those who posted comments urged the police to "treat sex workers better".
Some experts have suggested the country should also set up special "sex zones" for legal and safe sex services.