Parents gathered outside the RBY nursery. Photo from China state-owned people.cn
Child abuse at a private nursery in Beijing and the accompanying censorship of news and commentary surrounding the case has many Chinese criticizing authorities and skeptical of police conclusions.
On November 22, eight parents filed a complaint with Beijing police that their children were being harmed by staff at a kindergarten run by an education group called Red-Yellow-Blue (RYB).
According to local media reports, the parents found needle holes in their children's bodies. Some of the children said they were fed white powder by the teachers, and one child claimed that they were bought into a room for body inspections performed by a naked doctor. Allegedly, at least three children were punished with standing naked in class, and one showed physical marks that could imply sexual molestation.
The news was explosive on social media. On November 22 and 23, a group of enraged parents gathered outside the kindergarten demanding explanations and surveillance videos. The police then started the investigation.
Censorship soon followed. The once hot topic all but disappeared from social media. Netizens, however, continued to discuss the case in more private channels such as chat rooms, with many expressing concern that the police would not dig deep while investigating the established education group.
This is not the first time the education group has faced accusations of child abuse. In 2015, needle spots were found on the bodies of at least 17 toddlers in another kindergarten run by RYB in Jilin province. Four teachers there were subsequently arrested.
On November 25, Beijing Chaoyang district police announced on Weibo that they had arrested one 22-year-old teacher — as well as a Beijing resident who commented on social media about the connection between the headmaster of the nursery with a military clan stationed near Beijing.
On November 28, the district police further reported that there was no evidence of drugs being fed to children nor of sexual molestation. The parents, police said, admitted to making false accusations or coaching their children to provide false testimony about standing naked as punishment or drug consumption.
However, the police also said that the hard disk of the surveillance footage from the kindergarten was broken because the electrical supply to the video surveillance set had been unplugged frequently for a lengthy period of time. The police managed to recover 113 hours of recorded footage.
Under the police updates posted on Weibo, the majority of the comments praise the work of authorities and condemn rumormongers.
Nevertheless, despite the censorship, critical remarks about the investigation continue to pop up on Weibo. One netizen summed up the message of the police updates in a few bullet points:
Cartoon of a hard disk hanging itself. Viral image from Weibo.
1. The kids are OK; 2. Teachers are mad [they needled the kids because they refused to sleep]; 3. The surveillance camera's hard disk is broken; 4. Parents are using the kids to create a mess; 5. Netizens and the kids were both tricked by the parents; 6. Netizens should stop spreading rumors or they will be arrested.
China introduced the online rumor law in 2013. Netizens who distribute unverified information would be arrested and charged with spreading rumor if their posts have been viewed for 5000 times or shared for 500 times. The maximum jail time is three years.