China has intensified online censorship by closing 16 websites, taking the toughest steps yet against major microblogs and detaining six people for spreading rumours of a coup amid Beijing’s most serious political crisis for years.
The moves underline official anxieties ahead of this year’s leadership transition, particularly since the sacking of Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai led to widespread speculation about infighting at the top.
As the mood on microblogs grew increasingly febrile, there were even claims of an attempted coup in the Chinese capital – complete with photographs of military vehicles that turned out to be from a parade three years ago.
State news agency Xinhua said Beijing police detained six people for spreading rumours of “military vehicles entering Beijing and something wrong going on in Beijing”. Citing a spokesman for the state internet information office, it said the claims were “fabricated by some lawless people” and had been a bad influence on the public.
The office also closed 16 websites for allegedly spreading the rumours.
The spokesman said that Sina and Tencent, the organisations which operate China’s most popular versions of Twitter, and which each have hundreds of millions of microbloggers, had pledged to strengthen their managements after being “criticised and punished”. The two firms have disabled their comment functions for three days.
Internet users have become increasingly bold in their willingness to discuss current affairs and even sensitive political news, prompting officials to seek new ways of reining them in. From two weeks ago real name registration is supposed to be in force for all users of the Sina and Tencent services, although several users say they have posted material without having given their details.