Charles Xue

Rush of ‘rumour’ arrests adds to China crackdown fears

Some see expanding attack on dissent as scores held and dozens of websites shut amid central government campaign to rein in social media

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 12:42pm

The central government's campaign against online "rumour mongering" appears to have widened further - with more reports of arrests, detentions and website closures yesterday - raising fears the moves could be a smokescreen to quell dissent.

Police in Shanxi province announced the detention or arrest of more than 60 people and the closure of more than two dozen websites in recent weeks, state media reported. Shanghai police similarly said they had arrested some 170 people accused of posting online rumours so far this year.

At the same, the Ministry of Public Security announced the detention of two high-profile microblog users who have made damaging claims against public officials.

Fu Xuesheng, an IT entrepreneur in Shanghai, was detained for allegedly fabricating rumours against an official in Jinshan district, the ministry said. Zhou Lubao , who has frequently gone online to report problem officials, was also recently detained by Suzhou police "on suspicion of blackmail and fabricating information about a terrorist attack".

The actions come during the government campaign against the spread of online "rumours", which appears to have been gaining steam in recent weeks with the backing of state media. The government appears particularly concerned with outspoken internet celebrities, whose comments and critiques can instantly reach millions.

On Friday, Charles Xue Biqun - a well-known Chinese-American investor and outspoken social-media commentator better known by his pen name Xue Manzi - was detained by Beijing police for suspected involvement in prostitution.

The campaign has caused widespread concern that the government is using it as a cover to silence its critics, as social media has become the primary tool on the mainland for exposing government abuses and wrongdoing by public officials.

China National Radio quoted Professor Hong Daode from China University of Political Science and Law as saying that Xue, who is an American citizen, might be deported after being detained "for re-education".

Many mainland internet users have expressed sympathy for Xue, saying they suspected that the prostitution charge was a case of entrapment devised by authorities who want to discredit and intimidate leading liberals.

Others have speculated that the campaign is part of a balancing act by the Communist Party leadership while Bo Xilai , an icon of conservatives, stands trial for corruption and abuse of power.

In Shanxi, police said they shut down 27 websites, detained 49 people and arrested 23 others on suspicion of cybercrimes between June 25 and August 15, the Shanxi Daily reported. Authorities there said they had "cleaned up 5,148 pieces of harmful information online".

Shanghai police reported that "more than 170 people involved in over 380 cases had been punished for posting online rumours" in the city this year.

It was not clear if Fu's case was included in those numbers. Shanghai police said Fu had wrongly repeatedly claims in an online post that a deputy district mayor had been involved in a murder, accepted bribes and had numerous mistresses.

Zhou, the microblogger detained in Suzhou , was accused of blackmailing organisations and individuals in several provinces, and threatening to go to Beijing to "break into the US embassy" and "appear in Beijing at an appropriate time with some explosives", The Beijing News reported.