Charles Xue confesses to spreading irresponsible posts online

Chinese government steps up campaign to tackle online dissent

China's state media has shown jailed web commentator Charles Xue confessing to spreading irresponsible posts online, as the government steps up its campaign to muzzle online dissent.

Mr Xue, a Chinese-American venture capitalist who was detained several weeks ago on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes, appeared on the CCTV channel wearing handcuffs and a prison uniform.

He told Xinhua news agency that “freedom of speech cannot override the law”.

“My irresponsibility in spreading information online was a vent of negative mood, and was a neglect of the social mainstream,” he said.


In his self-criticism, he confessed to being “irresponsible” and egotistical, and said he had started to act like an emperor.

Mr Xue is one of the "Big Vs" – "V" is a sign put at the end of the names of bloggers whose profiles have been "verified" as genuine. He has more than 12 million followers on microblogging site Sina Weibo.

Mr Xue "offered to appear handcuffed" to publicise the aggressive crackdown on users of Twitter-like microblogs, Xinhua reported, part of a Communist Party campaign to rein in a forum that is challenging the country's censorship regime.

Last week Wang Gongquan, also a venture capitalist, was detained by police. He has been calling for political reform online and is part of the New Citizens Movement, a group promoting civil society.

Chinese president Xi Jinping is asserting his authority before an important Communist Party plenum in November. His government is placing new limits on people who may spread online reports of party cadres’ wrongdoing.

Internet users can now be charged with defamation if postings containing rumours are visited by 5,000 users or reposted more than 500 times, according to a judicial interpretation issued this month by China’s top court and prosecutor.

Mr Xue praised the legislation, describing it as “a good beginning”. He said the internet had grown wildly, and urgently needed to be cleaned up and put in order.

The crackdown on rumours has sparked fears that government regulation will go beyond issues of defamation and clamp down on online speech that criticises the government and the party.

An influential Communist Party journal has condemned online speech critical of the party and government, comparing internet rumours to denunciation posters used during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

"There are some who make use of the open freedom of cyberspace to engage in wanton defamation, attacking the party and the government," said an article in Qiushi, which means "seeking truth" in Chinese.

“The internet is full of all kinds of negative news and critical voices saying the government only does bad things and everything it says is wrong,” the article said.

It said online rumours were no better than “big character posters” – hand-written signs put up in public places during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution to spread propaganda, often denouncing people and institutions as counter-revolutionary or bourgeois.

Last month, Chinese state television broadcast a public confession by British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey, who has been held with his American wife since last month, possibly as part of a corruption investigation into multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing