Clampdown on Bloggers, 'Rumors'

Chinese authorities move to further tighten controls on Internet content.
2011-08-29
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A man surfs the Internet in Beijing, June 15, 2009.
A man surfs the Internet in Beijing, June 15, 2009.
AFP

Authorities in the Chinese capital have called on major Internet service providers to step up controls over online content, as some companies suspend the accounts of netizens accused of spreading rumors.

Popular microblogging service Sina Weibo recently sent out notices to its 200 million users denying two reports, including one about the killing of a 19-year-old woman.

It said the accounts of users who spread the reports had been "temporarily closed."

Last week, Beijing municipal Party secretary Liu Qi told Internet companies to tighten controls and prevent the spread of false and "harmful information."

Chinese authorities have launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent around the country following online, anonymous calls earlier this year for a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.

Approval from 'higher up'

U.S.-based pro-democracy activist Liu Nianchun said Liu's recent comments likely reflected opinion throughout the powerful city government, and much higher up, too.

"The municipal government must have received approval from the [central] government, or else Liu would never dare to overstep his brief by saying this," Liu Nianchun said.

He said the likely source of the comment was Li Changchun, who as chairman of the Party's Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization, is de facto head of propaganda and media relations.

Liu Nianchun said the government's fear of social instability stem largely from international events in recent months.

"The Chinese Communist Party is sure to have been very shaken up by events, especially in Egypt and Libya," he said. "That's because the CCP's power is effectively that of a dictator."

"The Party has always feared two kinds of revolution; that which comes from the barrel of a gun, and that which comes from the barrel of a pen,“ he said.

A new approach

Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, said the public security ministry has recently also begun using microblogs to put its message across.

"The local governments may have their own methods and channels [for law enforcement]," Li said. "But often they are at odds with central government policy."

"That's why the public security ministry is putting such a lot of emphasis on improving information on the Internet," he said. "They can also come face to face with people online."

"This is a new approach for them," he said.

Li said the Chinese government is trying to bring the Internet and microblogging sites under the control of law enforcement agencies.

"They are going to need evidence if they are going to prosecute people in future for spreading rumors online," he said.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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