Singer Wu Hongfei Released After “Bomb Threat”

Wu Hongfei, the Beijing singer who was detained for ten days over comments she posted on her Weibo account, has been released from police custody. From the South China Morning Post:

“I’m back home. Thanks for all the netizens’ support. It was you who helped me through the difficulty. I won’t forget it,” wrote Wu on her Weibo page this morning.

Wu has regained her freedom, but she has been forced to leave the apartment that she rented in Beijing, she said on Weibo this afternoon.

After 10 days in detention, Wu, the vocalist of an independent rock band who posted “I want to bomb the neighbourhood committee of Beijing Job Centre and the f***ing housing authority”, one day after an explosion at Beijing airport on July 20, has changed her angry rhetoric.

Wu called her post about bomb threats “inappropriate” and the actions of the police “understandable” in a statement she posted online this morning.

Her past Weibo posts show that she was frustrated by the government agencies when dealing with her daily affairs. Posts also show that her singing career has stalled, her band lacks money and she can’t be with the boy she loves. Also, she has a bad relationship with her landlord and she even wrote a blog post titled “how to kill the landlord” years ago. [Source]

The comments that led to the outspoken singer’s detention came as part of a larger wave of online support for Beijing airport bomber Ji Zhongxing. While the SCMP had earlier reported that police were seeking a terrorism charge for Wu, she was released Friday with a 500 yuan fine and no criminal charges. Coverage from the AP just prior to Wu’s release notes that her detention prompted some Chinese legal scholars to rally in defense of free speech:

Nobody would suggest a wholesale easing of free speech in China was in the offing, or that questioning the dominance of the ruling Communist Party would be tolerated any time soon. However, prominent legal scholars have spoken up in defense of Wu’s right to free speech, urging the government to be more tolerant of speech that can serve as a release valve for the disgruntled.

“It is clear that she was merely blowing off some steam, and that’s markedly differently from spreading rumors,” said Chen Hongguo, a law scholar at Northwest University of Politics and Law. “The public would get a sense of crisis if they see a woman like Wu getting punished.”

Many Chinese have been questioned and admonished by police over online comments, and some have been sent to labor camps in China’s extralegal system without due process. But Wu’s case, as the first known formal criminal detention of a public figure in a case like this, grabbed nationwide attention with leading news portals sending alerts on the case’s latest developments. [Source]

China Daily has more on Wu’s post-detention thoughts, and on the debate surrounding her comments:

Discussion online about terrorism threats and harmless jokes has continued in China, after outspoken singer Wu Hongfei was released by police on Friday after posting a fake bomb threat online.

[…]Zhan Jiang, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said law enforcement agencies should not trample on freedom of speech while regulating hate speech.

Zhan added that Wu’s detention has raised questions about whether the police overreacted after a harmless joke.

Zhan said that Wu’s bomb threat, joke or not, was “serious misconduct” and should be “harshly criticized”, especially at a time when police in Beijing are under great pressure.

[…]Wu said that the detention procedures of the police are “open to question”, indicating her disagreement with the detention.

Also prior to the singer’s release, the Global Times weighed in on the debate, summing up Wu’s comments not as a personal opinion to be tolerated as free speech, but as a “call to action,”:

China is not short of victims who get themselves in trouble because of what they say. The reaction to Wu’s arrest could make her look like the latest casualty in a country where different opinions are not often tolerated. Except for one thing: What Wu posted was not an opinion but more of a call to action.

In her Weibo entry, she said “the places I want to bomb include the residential committee of the Beijing Personnel Exchange Center, and the housing commission…”

She quickly followed it up with another entry to try and clarify her meaning. She came up with a nonsensical apology, saying that she had meant to say she wanted to “fry” food at the McDonald’s beside the residential committee of the Beijing Personnel Exchange Center.

The words for “bomb” and “fry” in China are synonyms but her excuse made no sense and was a feeble attempt to explain away the scandal her previous post had wrought. But it was all too late as she is now facing up to five years in prison for “fabricating false terrorism information.” [Source]