Chinese Authorities Close 16 Websites After Coup Rumours

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Comment function shut down on two microblogging platforms following the fall of a political leader

Chinese authorities detained six people and shut down 16 websites responsible for “fabricating or disseminating online rumors,” Xinhua news agency reported late on Friday, citing the State Internet Information Office and Beijing police.

The websites were accused of spreading rumours about a military coup, gunfire on the streets and tanks entering Beijing, after the political downfall of one of the ruling communist party’s senior leaders.

The Great Chinese Firewall

Websites were closed, people detained and two popular microblogging sites had been forced to suspend the comment function this weekend in an attempt to keep order in China‘s capital.

The “dangerous” rumours were caused by the 15 March ousting of Bo Xilai as the party chief of the inland city of Chongqing. The scandal has shaken China’s Communist Party as it gears up for a top leadership change that happens once every decade.

The ambitious son of a revolutionary Maoist leader, Bo had hopes of an appointment to China’s top decision-making body, the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee.

After he was sacked, the Chinese-speaking Internet, including two of the biggest microblogs run by Sina Corporation and Tencent Holdings, was awash with speculation about a government coup. Under government pressure, both companies had to shut the comment functions on their sites from 8am on Saturday until 8am tomorrow to “clean up rumours and other illegal information spreading” through the site.

In a statement on Friday, Beijing police urged Internet users to abide by laws and be vigilant against online gossip, which “severely disturbs the public order, undermines social stability and deserves punishment”.

A total of 1,065 people have been arrested by Chinese authorities since mid-February and more than 208,000 “harmful” online messages have been deleted as part of an Internet “cleansing” campaign dubbed “spring breeze”, reports the Financial Times.

Beijing police told state media they had issued warnings to 3,117 websites across the country and punished 70 Internet companies as part of the campaign, including through forced closures.

Beijing-based microbloggers had previously been ordered to register their real names by mid-March or face unspecified legal consequences.

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