Beijing Targets Online Political Rumors, Following Public Outrage Over Rain Storm

A Beijing government official said this week the city would crackdown on Internet users spreading political rumors that attack Chinese Communist party leaders, after authorities arrested 5,007 people suspected of online illegal activities.

The head of Beijing's public security bureau, Fu Zhenghua, made the statements, which were later published in various state-controlled publications on Thursday. The statements came just days after a major rain storm hit the capital during the weekend and left 37 people within the city dead, according to government estimates.

Internet users in the country, however, suspect the death toll may be higher, and have complained that authorities did little to warn residents about the impending storm. China, however, imposes strict censorship on anti-government discussion, and has deleted sensitive posts relating to the storm on Chinese blogs and Twitter-like sites in the country.

Beijing's public security has already set up police enforcement accounts on 239 social networking platforms in the city, according to the reports. Recently, city authorities have stopped 3,916 alleged cases of online illegal activity, and arrested 5,007 suspects.

The exact nature of the charges against the persons arrested is not known, but authorities are also targeting Internet users for trafficking illegal goods. From the end of July to August 31, authorities will hold a campaign to clean up Internet content, with the stated aim of protecting the young and ensuring the Internet's healthy development.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly targeted so-called online rumors in the past. In April, the government said it had taken down more than 210,000 online posts and closed 42 websites as part of another crackdown. Last year, authorities also went as far as to detain Internet users for allegedly fabricating online rumors.

China has 538 million Internet users, about half of which use Twitter-like microblogs, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. The country's microblogs are however starting to deploy a real-name system, which experts believe is meant to scare users from posting anti-government content.

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