Following last week’s announcement of new restrictions on instant messaging services including WeChat, AFP reported on Saturday that four people had been arrested and 81 others detained or given warnings for spreading rumors online. China has conducted a long-running campaign against such rumors, but legal critics and skeptical netizens see it as a cloak for political restriction of free speech.
Police did not give details on the timing of the actions, Xinhua news agency said, adding that 16 websites were punished for “weak safety management”.
Citing police, Xinhua said the alleged rumour-mongers “used social network services to fabricate and spread rumours, or forward rumours published on foreign websites”.
It added that among the rumours were “predictions of an earthquake in Beijing within two to six days and gunshots having been heard in the west of the Chinese capital”. [Source]
Reuters’ Ben Blanchard, meanwhile, notes that soldiers have been reminded not to listen to or pass on rumors, and to maintain ideological discipline:
In a front page story detailing new education and propaganda guidelines, the military’s official People’s Liberation Army Daily said soldiers had to be “clear and steadfast” in their politics and support China’s ongoing reforms.
“Resolutely resist mistaken opinions that confuse public opinion and interfere in reforms; don’t make irresponsible remarks, do no listen to, believe or spread news from the grapevine and resolutely guard against political liberalism,” the newspaper said.
“From beginning to end it is absolutely necessary to uphold the absolute leadership of the party over the armed forces.” [Source]
Reuters also reported the arrest of a Xinjiang man for spreading rumors about a particularly bloody recent incident, blaming him for “fabricated” accounts on overseas websites. Chinese authorities described the episode as an “organized and premeditated attack” in which 96 people died, including 37 civilians; overseas Uyghur groups claim it was a massacre in which hundreds were killed. The highest estimates came from the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, which originally suggested that the death toll could have been as high as 5,000. The statement containing this claim has been deleted (via Thomas Nelson), but survives in Google’s cache; a replacement press release puts the figure in the hundreds.