Monday, May 19, 2008

China web police in overdrive

DOZENS of people have been detained all over China in the past few days for spreading dangerous rumours following the Sichuan earthquake - most of them apprehended by the "net police".

The quake has thrown up not only heroes but also villains - including rumour-mongers who have spread false stories both for sheer mischief and for profit, especially via the internet.
China has an estimated 40,000 "net police", who are usually deployed to combat pornography, violence and, especially, material regarded as politically subversive.
And this week, they were assigned a fresh target: these rumour-mongers.
Three teenagers in Chengdu, the Sichuan capital, posted a story online that "a chemical factory in Dujiangyan has exploded massively, polluting all the drinking water in Sichuan with chemicals and corpses, and discharging lethal gas".
Dujiangyan is the source of Chengdu's water, and this triggered a panic in the provincial capital, where all bottled water sold out rapidly. The original source of the rumour, blown out of all proportion, was a fire in a rubber factory.
Some people in the area fled their homes. One resident, Liang, said he was woken by a crowd of people walking down the road in the middle of the night shouting that poison gas was coming. He said: "I woke my parents, wife and daughter, and we rushed out of the house and followed them."
The eldest of the three who posted the rumour was 17, so they received only a severe warning from police.
Stories that have also caused temporary panic in the area involve the imminent collapse of dam walls.
One man named Zhang, who works for a company engaged in online promotions, was jailed for five days in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, after admitting posting the claim that the quake was man-made, probably caused by the US. He said his motive was to increase the number of hits for his promotion page.
The police in Fengtai, Anhui province, heard that someone in Xiluoyuan housing compound was posting rumours about a vast new impending quake in the same area. They only found an elderly couple at home, who didn't even know how to use a computer.
But their jobless 25-year-old son Liu, they learned, was addicted to the net. They waited for him to return and arrested him at 10pm, summarily jailing him for 10 days. He explained his posts had won him a big name online.


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