Police detained two people in Wenling, Zhejiang province, on Saturday night after an environmental protection inspector was run over and killed, the local government said on Sunday.
The suspects, surnamed Jiang and Wang, were inside the vehicle that hit Chen Ben, 30, an official at Wenling's environmental protection bureau, around 6 pm on Saturday, the local government's information office said in a post on its WeChat account.
Chen had been investigating a pollution case in Ruoheng township as part of an environmental protection enforcement team organised by the local environment and public security authorities, the post said.
Netizens including Chen's colleagues and friends left many comments on the post lamenting his passing and condemning the two suspects. The post had been read more than 100,000 times by Sunday afternoon.
"Chen is my classmate. I'm so sad and angry that we have lost such a young life. How can people commit such vicious crimes?" wrote one WeChat user.
"You always treated your work as the top priority and fought on the front line in investigating pollution. I will always remember your smiling face behind the goofy, round glasses," a colleague wrote.
"It is such a pity that we lost a hero who works on weekends. Public servants must remember to protect themselves first when performing their duties," one netizen wrote, while another added, "Such vicious crimes must be dealt with seriously and the suspects should face the maximum penalty."
It's not the first time inspectors have encountered violence during regular inspections since China's environmental authorities tightened supervision in recent years, including shutting down polluting companies.
In August, environmental protection officers in Shangluo, Shaanxi province, were besieged, verbally abused and beaten by construction workers during a nighttime inspection of dust and noise from construction sites.
In March last year, four inspectors checking a plant with many recorded pollution violations in Dangshan county of Suzhou, Anhui province, were beaten by the plant's owner. Two of the inspectors received serious injuries, according to the provincial environmental authorities. The owner was detained by the police.
In another case, a man surnamed Liu was sentenced to 15 months in prison in August for obstructing officers in their duties in Jinan, Shandong province. He led a group of people who beat environmental inspectors when they checked dust pollution levels in September 2015.