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Human Rights & Social Issues

Chinese Police Detain Online Commentator Xue Manzi


Chinese police detained a prominent online commentator, and state media called for a crackdown on “spreading rumors” online.

Chinese police detained a prominent online commentator, and state media called for a crackdown on “spreading rumors” online.

Chinese authorities are sending a chill through the country’s boisterous community of online social commentators as police detained a prominent Web user and state media stepped up calls for a crackdown on what they describe as spreading rumors online.

Xue Manzi, above, spoke at the China Internet Conference 2013 on Aug. 13. He has been detained on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute, state media said Sunday.

State media said Sunday that a well-known social commentator, angel investor and philanthropist who goes by the name Xue Manzi had been detained on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute. It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Xue, 60 years old, would face formal charges. A police statement identified a man surnamed Xue as having been detained. Mr. Xue couldn’t be reached for comment. His wife didn’t return phone messages.

Mr. Xue also goes by the English name Charles Xue, and Chinese media reports said his legal name is Xue Biqun.

News of Mr. Xue’s detention rocketed through the Chinese web, where he commands an important presence. He has more than 12 million followers on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblogging service, China’s equivalent to Twitter, where he frequently comments on contemporary social and other issues.

Some online postings said the heavy coverage of the allegations in state media suggested authorities want to make an example of Mr. Xue, while some wondered whether he had been set up. Chinese authorities in the past have used similar charges to discredit and silence political critics.

The case is a reminder that those who choose to challenge the government will be scrutinized more closely, said Hu Xijin, editor of the popular Global Times newspaper, on his Weibo account. “If you go this road, your rear end must be clean,” he wrote.

Mr. Xue’s detention follows the arrest in recent weeks of political activists calling for greater government transparency and for officials to disclose their assets. A campaign against the spreading of rumors online has been loudly praised in state media and netted the widely publicized detention of four people in Beijing this past week. All together, The latest moves are being watched by Chinese and foreigners for insight into how new leaders under Communist Party General-Secretary Xi Jinping will deal with a society that has grown more prosperous and more vocal of its rights.

Part of the campaign to rein in free speech seems directed at people, like Mr. Xue, with large followings on social media, which are China’s least censored forums. They are known colloquially as “big V” users. The letter “V” stands for “verified,” a designation often given to popular users whose identities have been confirmed by Sina.

Earlier this month, the head of the State Internet Information Office, which monitors online content, called a group of “big V” users to a forum and urged them to be more constructive in their social-media postings.

The detention of Mr. Xue “isn’t a simple incident of administrative punishment,” said investment consultant and popular Weibo user Chen Zonghe. “It’s a struggle to overhaul the big V.”

The clampdown comes as the new party leadership is trying to promote consensus within its ranks after a rocky transition last year. The closely watched trial of Bo Xilai, who was abruptly removed from the party’s ruling Politburo last year, on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, is under way in the eastern city of Jinan.

State media coverage of the trial has been strictly controlled, though its popular topic of discussion and debate on Weibo and other Chinese forums, and courtroom transcripts have provided rare insight into the extravagant lifestyle of the Bo family, members of the communist elite.

Meanwhile, party leaders are preparing for a policy meeting, expected to take place around October. The conclave is expected to announce a series of economic overhauls and other initiatives, and authorities often try to minimize resistance to any changes beforehand.

Mr. Xi himself has spoken about the importance of propaganda in recent days, including in a speech where he argued that improving propaganda work was key to strengthening the party’s rule.

Source: WSJ.com “Chinese Police Detain Online Commentator” – Brian Spegele
 
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