Two prominent bloggers who detailed protests across China remain in detention without being formally charged six months after their arrest.

Since 2012, Lu Yuyu (盧昱宇) has used several Chinese social media platforms to expose protests around the country that may otherwise go unreported. Lu and his girlfriend, Li Tingyu (李婷玉), documented nearly 30,000 “mass incidents” in 2015 alone, according to Amnesty International, including villagers’ protests against land grabs, workers’ strikes and protests and demonstrations of homeowners claiming they have been cheated by developers.

“After finding an initial post about a protest, Lu tries to verify the information by tracking down other posts about the same incident,” a 2014 profile in Foreign Policy said. “After gathering and organizing the information, he publishes the results on his own online accounts.”

In June 2016, the pair, who lived in Dali, Yunnan province, were detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Three months later, formal charges were recommended to the prosecutor’s office by police, but they have not yet been officially indicted, Frances Eve, a researcher with Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) told The News Lens this week.

Lu, who has been able to see his lawyer several times, has said he was tortured in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture Detention Center. Lu said he was beaten by police and suffered from sleep deprivation, according to his lawyer’s report.

“Lu Yuyu told his lawyer that on 29 August, patrolling police officers discovered that he had covered his eyes to help him sleep and that he had resisted when they stopped him from continuing to do so,” Amnesty International says.

“The following day two police officers, after they said he did not stand up properly when asked, grabbed Lu’s arms and neck making it difficult for him to breathe. Lu’s head was hit against the wall during the scuffle, causing swelling and a blood stain. His requests to see a doctor and lawyer were denied. He then staged a hunger strike until he was allowed to meet his lawyer on 31 August.”

Meanwhile, Li has also reported issues dealing with officials.

“Li Tingyu’s lawyer visited her in the same detention centre on 31 August, Li said that the police officers seized her English diary and warned her not to write anything in that language,” Amnesty International says. “The officers informed her that they had sent the diary to the public security bureau for Chinese translation and verification of its content.”

CHRD’s Eve suggests the bloggers are likely to continue to be detained without formal charges.

“Chinese authorities routinely use all legal loopholes available to arbitrarily detain human rights defenders for as long as possible – it's a tactic to prevent these individuals from doing their work, express their opinions, or highlight abuses,” she says. “It also serves to scare off others from doing this kind of work.”

Eve says that in most cases activists will be held in pre-trial detention for longer than one year, although in “the most extreme cases,” it can be close to three years.

“Not all [activists] are convicted, but being ‘released on bail pending further investigation’ before a trial is another tactic that deflects some international criticism while maintaining strict police control on the individual and can effectively end their careers,” she adds

Beijing wresting back control of the online sphere

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which enforces some of the world’s most restrictive media censorship practices, has long argued that its control of information is important for continued social stability.

Still, critics have highlighted that the country’s supervision and regulation of online speech has been worsening since Xi Jinping (習近平) took over the leadership in late 2012.

David Bandurski, of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project, told The News Lens in August 2016 that Chinese internet authorities have been working to make sure all media – including new internet sites and social media – stayed in line with the ideas and messages of the CCP leadership.

“Xi Jinping wants media development and ostensible diversity under renewed and unchallenged Party authority,” Bandurski said at the time. “He wants social media without networked social action that challenges the Party. He wants news without unwelcome surprises.”

In July 2016, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) prohibited news websites from basing their stories on information collected from social media. That same month, CAC shut down investigative news programs at several major online news sites, including those owned by media corporations Sina, NetEase, Sohu, Tencent, and Phoenix. Earlier in the year, CAC said it was ramping up efforts to purge comments by China’s nearly 700 million internet users in order to eliminate "unhealthy information" and promote “helpful and well-intentioned” messages.

Amnesty International says China has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.

The Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index ranked China 176 out of 180 countries, ahead of Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.

Editor: Olivia Yang