Top Tweeters Detained in China's 'War on Rumor'

A Chinese netizen uses Weibo, the Twitter-like microblogging service of Sina, in a rural village in southwest China's Guizhou province, Dec. 15, 2012.

Chinese authorities have detained a prominent businessman who tweeted his support for a citizens' anti-corruption movement and a similarly outspoken businessman who had criticized the ruling Chinese Communist Party on social media.

Wang Gongquan, a famous wealthy investor, was taken away by Beijing police at noon Friday, legal scholar Teng Biao, who is based in the country's capital,  said via Twitter.

In southern Yunnan province, prominent tweeter and businessman Dong Rubin, known by his online nickname "bianmin," was held on Tuesday on charges linked to the administration of his business.

The Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend newspaper tweeted a photo of a leaked "summons" document issued by Beijing police and bearing Wang's name, although RFA was unable to verify the document independently.

Wang's detention on suspicion of "assembling a crowd to disrupt public order" was also confirmed by Guangzhou-based lawyer Tang Jingling, who saw the move as part of a widening crackdown on anti-corruption activists loosely known as the New Citizens' Movement.

"This is part of the authorities' crackdown on the New Citizens' Movement," Tang said. "Wang Gongquan was one of the key advocates of the New Citizens' Movement, and one of its founders along with Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi."

Wang had publicly called for the release of lawyer Xu Zhiyong, detained in July after helping members of the New Citizens' Movement, which has organized demonstrations since March calling on top government officials to disclose their assets.

Repeated calls to Wang's cell phone went unanswered on Friday.

His account on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo appeared to be blocked or deleted on Friday, displaying only the message: "Sorry. We were unable to find any results for 'Wang Gongquan.'"

Wang is believed to have provided financial backing for Xu, AFP reported, and began an online signature campaign for the activist lawyer's release.

Chinese authorities have recently warned social media users not to spread "rumors," which activists say means critical content or breaking news that the government doesn't like, saying they could be charged with criminal offenses.

Opposition to petrochemical plant

On Tuesday, police in Yunnan's provincial capital Kunming detained prominent tweeter and businessman Dong Rubin, a vocal opponent of plans to build a petrochemical plant near Kunming, which sparked mass protests on the city's streets earlier this year.

He has also been championing the cause of a young man who died in police custody. The authorities admitted the man had been beaten to death.

Dong's lawyer, Xiao Dongzhi, on Thursday confirmed his client's detention to the Associated Press, saying he was charged with inflating the amount of his business' capital when he registered it.

Last month, Dong wrote on his Twitter-like microblog account that strangers raided his office in late August and took away three computers without providing any legal documentation.

"What crime will they charge me with? Using prostitutes, gambling, using or selling drugs, tax evasion, gathering a crowd to stir up trouble, fabricating rumors, or directing a criminal society online?" Dong wrote.

China's leaders have issued a directive in recent days criminalizing online "rumor-mongering," targeting critical comments and negative news on the country's hugely popular social media sites.


Last month, Beijing police detained Chinese-American venture capitalist Charles Xue, who has more than 12 million followers on the microblogging platform Sina Weibo, on suspicion of visiting a prostitute after he posted regular content on issues like accountability, pollution and food safety.

Hubei-based online commentator Liu Yiming said he was deeply suspicious of the government's motives in launching the campaign against online rumors.

"I think their anti-rumor campaign has an ulterior motive," Liu said in an interview on Thursday. "They want to rein in netizens' freedom of expression, and frighten everyone into keeping quiet."

An online activist known by her nickname Ranxiang Jiejie said a number of her fellow activists had been criminally detained in recent weeks.

"Things aren't the same as they were," she said. "Before, [the police] would invite you to 'drink tea,' and mostly just question you and threaten you under the guise of a 'chat'."

"Now, at the very least, they are detaining people for 10-20 days."

She said the aim of the campaign appeared to be to make everyone fear their actions could be regarded as criminal.

"Eventually, it will get so that everyone is frightened," she said. "We used to think that getting called in to 'drink tea' was scary enough."


But she said the campaign could backfire if too many people were implicated in criminal charges linked to "rumor-mongering," and that the campaign could force online activists to become more active offline.

Beijing's campaign against "rumor-mongering" has sparked comparisons with the violent denunciation campaigns of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) by a number of political commentators in recent weeks.

In a commentary broadcast on RFA's Cantonese Service, political analyst Wei Pu said the authorities had stepped up their rhetoric against "reactionary intellectuals" at a recent high-level meeting.

"We haven't seen this term in the Communist Party's political lexicon since the Cultural Revolution, and now it has sprung back to life in the mouths of the highest-ranking leaders," Wei wrote.

"This shows that President Xi Jinping gets his nourishment from the spirit and language of the Cultural Revolution."

Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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