This is terrible news. CNN and TechCrunch reported Friday that city officials in central China beat a man to death for attempting to record a protest on his mobile phone. Apparently, there was some sort of confrontation between villagers in the central Chinese province of Hubei and local municipal "inspectors" over the dumping of waste near the villagers' homes. When Wei Wenhua, a 41-year-old construction company executive, tried to film the altercation with his camera phone, a group of more than 50 of the inspectors attacked him, beating him for five minutes, according to China's Xinhua news agency. Government investigators later recovered Wei's mobile phone, but the video had been deleted.
It is not entirely clear whether Wei's filming was a spontaneous act of citizen journalism by a complete amateur, or whether he was a blogger trying to cover the story. The headlines on CNN and TechCrunch both refer to Wei as a blogger, but neither article gives any details on his blogging activity, and the CNN articles says that he "happened on [the] confrontation."
Reporters Without Borders issued a statement about the incident:
Wei is the first 'citizen journalist' to die in China because of what he was trying to film. He was beaten to death for doing something which is becoming more and more common and which was a way to expose law enforcement officers who keep on overstepping the limits."
According to CNN, "[t]he killing has sparked outrage in China, with thousands expressing outrage in Chinese Internet chat rooms, often the only outlet for public criticism of the government." (Incidentally, the role of chat rooms jives well with Michael Anti's account of Chinese cyber-dissidence in his November 27, 2007 talk at the Berkman Center.) The Chinese government's response has been swift and decisive -- the head of the local urban administration bureau was sacked, and the police have detaind 24 city inspectors in connection with Wei's death. The swift response evidently reflects government fears that the incident could spark larger, more volatile protests.
(Note: The CMLP is hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.)