[QODLink]
Asia-Pacific
China punishes websites over 'coup rumours'
Sixteen websites shut down, two social media sites penalised and hundreds arrested, according to state media reports.
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2012 11:49
Hundreds of millions of Chinese people use social media websites, despite strict censorship. [Reuters]

China has shut down websites, made hundreds of arrests and punished two popular microblogging sites for "fabricating or disseminating online rumours" seemingly linked to a major political drama that led to the fall of a rising star.

Authorities closed 16 websites for spreading rumours of "military vehicles entering Beijing and something wrong going on in Beijing," state internet authorities and Beijing police said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

China's internet accessibility
  Microblogging site Weibo has around 300 million active users
  Social media site Tencent users has about 636.6 million active accounts (as of 2010)
  Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are blocked by the Golden Shield Project (also known as the Great Firewall), which is the government's online censorship project
  More than 16 per cent of social media messages get deleted

The crackdown underscores the government's anxieties over a public that is wired to the internet and eager to discuss political events despite strict censorship and threats of punishment.

"The root cause [of the censorship measures] is the lack of transparency of Chinese politics," Joseph Cheng, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera.

"People do not believe what they get from the official media, which is strictly censored and controlled."

Xinhua reported that Beijing police had questioned and admonished an unspecified number of internet users and detained six people who were not identified.

Since mid-February, Beijing police have arrested 1,065 suspects, issued warnings to the operators of more than 3,000 websites and deleted more than 208,000 "harmful" online messages during a crackdown on internet-related crime since mid-February, Xinhua said.

Aside from the 16 websites shutdown, two Twitter-like services run by Sina Corporation and Tencent Holdings, which each have more than 300 million users, said they would disable their comment functions for three days in a "necessary cleanup".

"Rumours and illegal, harmful information spread via microblogs have had a negative social impact and the comments contain a large amount of harmful information," said a message on Tencent's website.

"From March 31, 8:00 am to April 3, 8:00 am, Weibo's comment function will be temporarily suspended," said Sina, whose Weibo service is China's most popular.

 

Rumours of a 'coup'

The latest crackdown follows a surge in online rumours about a coup attempt which swirled following the March dismissal of rising political star Bo Xilai, the populist former leader of the mega-city of Chongqing

"Internet rumours and lies packaged as 'facts' will turn conjecture into 'reality', stir up trouble online and disturb people's minds," the party's People's Daily newspaper said in a commentary accompanying the announcement of the crackdown.

"If allowed to run amok, they will seriously disrupt social order, affect social stability and harm social integrity."

Yet to be fully explained, Bo's dismissal came after a top aide fled temporarily to a US consulate, apparently to seek asylum and in violation of party rules.

"This will, in the short term, stop people from building rumours, but it will add to the sense of anxiety and the sense of political speculation on the part of the public," Cheng said.

"The chinese authorities certainly are not dealing with the problem head on. These measures tend to reinforce the problem."

It also came as the Communist Party's senior leadership gears up for a handover of power to a younger generation of leaders later in the year, which is always a period of intense bargaining.

Politically minded Chinese saw the removal of Bo, considered a contender for a top job only months ago, as a sign of divisive infighting.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
As Western stars re-release 1980s charity hit, many Africans say it's a demeaning relic that can do more harm than good.
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Tokyo government claims its homeless population has hit a record low, but analysts - and the homeless - beg to differ.
3D printers can cheaply construct homes and could soon be deployed to help victims of catastrophe rebuild their lives.
Featured
Pro-Russia leaders' election in Ukraine's east shows bloody conflict is far from a peaceful resolution.
Critics challenge Canberra's move to refuse visas for West Africans in Ebola-besieged countries.
A key issue for Hispanics is the estimated 11.3 million immigrants in the US without papers who face deportation.
In 1970, only two mosques existed in the country, but now more than 200 offer sanctuary to Japan's Muslims.
Hundreds of the country's reporters eke out a living by finding news - then burying it for a price.