Chinese Twitter user detained for posting political joke

A petition is circulating online demanding his release

Chinese authorities have detained a Twitter user in the country for posting a political joke in the run-up to the government's leadership change earlier this month, according to backers of a petition demanding his release.

The user, Zhai Xiaobin, was detained on Nov. 7 likely for a Twitter post he made two days prior that made fun of China's 18th Communist Party Congress, said Wen Yunchao, a blogger who authored the petition. His family was told that he was being detained for spreading false and terrible information.

In his post, Zhai likened the party congress to the horror movie series "Final Destination," this time with the country's politicians stalked by Death and gradually killed off.

"Final Destination 6 has arrived. The Great Hall of the People collapses and the over 2000 people at the meeting are dead, except for seven of them. But afterwards, the seven die one after another in bizarre ways. Is it a game of God, or the wrath of Death? How will 18, the mysterious number, unlock the gate of Hell? Premieres globally on November 8th to bring you an earthshaking experience!" the Twitter message reads when translated into English.

Zhai is being held at the Miyun County detention center, north of Beijing, according to the petition. Calls were made to the detention center on Thursday, but the persons answering the phone declined to answer questions and promptly hung up. Beijing's Public Security Bureau did not immediately respond for comment.

China has previously detained Internet users for allegedly spreading rumors online. The country censors Internet sites strictly, and early last year, authorities were on high alert after an online call for China to stage a "Jasmine Revolution" began to appear on foreign sites, including LinkedIn.

Twitter itself is blocked in China. But users in the country with virtual private networks (VPNs) can bypass the country's censors to access the site.

Authorities probably believed Zhai's post was a warning of a terrorist attack on China's leader, even though it was a clearly a joke, Wen said in an interview.

"China can't continue detaining people this way, and so I hope people pay attention to this issue," he said. So far, more than 520 people have signed the petition, he added.

One of Zhai's friends, named Pu Fei, also said authorities went too far in their actions, given that political jokes are always posted online.

"They detained him for his joke. If authorities used this as their standard, then they would have to jail millions in China," he said.

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Michael Kan

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