By Oiwan Lam
A man in Hubei province was arrested and detained for “disturbing public order” after he posted a negative comment about hospital food in She Xian of Handan City.
According to local media reports, the She Xian police received a complaint saying that someone was making negative remarks online about the price, amount and quality of food in a hospital cafeteria, bringing the hospital bad publicity. Upon investigation, the police concluded that the man, named Zhang, was fabricating information and disturbing public order.
The police arrested Zhang on August 16 and held him in administrative detention at the police station.
The news soon went viral and triggered outrage online. Even state-affiliated media outlets are criticizing police actions. Under public pressure, She Xian police released Zhang and admitted that they misinterpreted the law. The head of the police station had been transferred to another position.
The incident has since been coined “Food Pickygate” (挑食門) by Chinese netizens, to highlight the absurd nature of the arrest and abuse of power by police.
Zhang wrote his post on She Xian’s forum:
My god, I am a local peasant, not a tourist. Unwillingly I paid RMB 10 yuan for a set lunch. When I opened the box, just a few piece of melon and leeks. They did give a good amount of potatoes, but where’s the meat?
Where’s the meat? The set said one kind of vegetable and two kinds of meat. There were just three mouthfuls of rice. I asked at the food counter, they said: this is normal as the vegetable and meat are cooked in a big pot. Can’t you see the meat strips? If you want more rice, you can pay more. Though I am a peasant, I have city experience — can you call that tiny bit meat?
The relocation of the hospital has pushed everything to a new level. The quality of care may have improved but the consumption level of She Xian has also risen. In the past, a full meal cost RMB 7-8, now RMB 20 cannot fill up your stomach. Where have the RMB 0.5 yuan congee and RMB 1 yuan bun gone? How about the RMB 4 yuan noodle and the RMB 5 yuan big noodle and the RMB 6 yuan set meal with four side dishes? All disappeared? How about conscience???
The public would not have been aware of the local story if police had not made Zhang’s detention a showcase of their campaign to crack down on rumors, via She Xian’s television’s official Weibo account:
The 100-day campaign was written in the county’s party committee meeting report released on 16 of August, the date police took action on the two online rumor cases. The first case concerned the spread of misinformation online about the death of a taxi driver. The second case was that of Zhang.
According to an independent netizen’s investigation, Zhang wrote and posted his comments in June. The hospital had given response and local media had followed up on the news. The story should have ended there. But following the spirit of the party meeting, the She Xian police turned the case into a criminal act of spreading rumors.
This did not stop netizens from expressing alarm on social media. Here is a selection of comments on one of the news threads on Weibo:
In fact, “food pickygate” is not a single incident. The rumor regulation, which was implemented in 2013, has given Chinese police excessive power to arrest netizens who are critical of state-run institutions, the government and party authorities.
Recently, there have been a number of incidents reflecting police abuse of power, as pointed out by Twitter user Zhao Shilong:
— 赵世龙 (@QfWT4KGpxqImovM) August 20, 2017
“The arrest of the food critic of She Xian hospital canteen, the netizen who revealed the casualties in a fatal landslide in Heshun county [of Shanxi], the teacher in Shaanxi who questioned forced donation — all these cases point to the same problem: the excessive and abusive use of police power which is used to protect the interest of government officials. If the public were unaware of the first two incidents, the results would not be reversed. The Shaanxi teacher’s case hasn’t been vindicated… The distortion of law, the infringement of citizen’s right to speech and expression, the lack of mechanism to punish the power abuser are the issues at stake.”
This article originally appeared on Global Voices.