China Arrests Over 1,000 Accused of Spreading ‘Dangerous’ Rumors

Posted April 12th, 2012 at 4:40 am (UTC-5)
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China's state media say more than 1,000 people have been arrested since mid-February in an intense, nation-wide crackdown on what have been called “Internet-related crimes.”

The official Xinhua news agency had reported in late March that six people had been arrested in a campaign against the spreading of supposedly “harmful” online rumors, which was linked to widespread speculation about political unrest in China.

But in a new report this week, Xinhua says 1,065 suspects have now been arrested. It also said 16 websites have been shut down and more than 208,000 “harmful” online messages deleted.

The figures were released in an editorial entitled, “Freedom of speech does not protect rumors.” The report said the crackdown was necessary to ensure social stability, specifically mentioning online rumors that spread in March of a possible coup.

The rumors were linked to the controversy surrounding Bo Xilai, the disgraced politician who on Tuesday was stripped of his Communist Party positions in what has proven to be China's biggest political scandal in recent memory.

Many on China's popular microblogs have suggested that senior party leaders were divided about whether to oust Bo, who is accused of “serious violations of party discipline.”

A charismatic politician, Bo had once been considered a front-runner for a leadership post in China's powerful Politburo Standing Committee when seven of its nine members step down later this year.

Observers say they expect the Internet crackdown to intensify as the sensitive, once-in-a-decade transition draws closer.

China recently expanded its ability to track down those spreading online rumors by requiring its estimated 250 million microblog users to register using their real names or be banned from posting messages.

Though popular foreign websites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked, about half of China's online population uses tightly controlled local equivalents, known as weibos.