Nearly 200 people punished in China for 'spreading online rumours' including inflating Tianjin disaster death toll

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 August, 2015, 1:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 August, 2015, 2:58pm

The authorities in China have punished 197 internet users for “spreading rumours” online, including inflating the number of people killed in the Tianjin explosions disaster and falsely alleging that a man committed suicide over the turmoil in the country’s stock markets, state media reported.

The state-run news agency Xinhua, citing the Public Security Ministry, said 165 online accounts had been closed.

It did not say over what period the punishments were handed out.

One rumour was that a man jumped to his death in Beijing due to the stock market slump.

Another said that at least 1,300 people were killed in the Tianjin blasts. The number confirmed dead by the authorities after the August 12 explosions at a dangerous goods warehouse in the port city is 150.

China criminalised the spreading of online rumours two years ago with controversial regulations that stipulated up to three years in jail for publishing false or defamatory information that is seen by more than 5,000 people or forwarded over 500 times.

Since that time the government has increasingly tightened controls on online expression, with crackdowns often coming around sensitive events, such as this week’s second world war anniversary parade in Beijing.

Critics say the campaign to control online comment is also aimed at suppressing criticism of the ruling Communist Party.

Internet users have “cooked up and disseminated large numbers of rumours and provocative news about terror” related to the country’s plans to mark the anniversary of the war’s end with a military parade on Thursday, the report said.

Others have been punished for circulating claims that relatives of China’s top leaders had “maliciously” sought to drive down stock prices during the country’s recent market turmoil.

A confession from an alleged perpetrator said the man had come up with unspecified fake news as part of a ploy to draw attention to his fruit-selling business.

Punishments were meted out to those whose posts to online newsgroups and social media sites “intentionally stirred up the public, created feelings of panic and misled society”, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.

Associated Press, Kyodo