China blogger offers remorse for 'rumour-spreading': court

Neil Connor
Two Chinese men use their laptop computers at a cafe in Beijing on November 2, 2012

The first person to stand trial in a Chinese crackdown on "Internet rumours" confessed his guilt and made a lengthy statement of remorse Friday, even thanking his detention centre, the court said.

Qin Zhihui is among hundreds of bloggers arrested in a government-backed campaign to assert greater control over social media which has seen influential critics of Beijing paraded on state television.

Prosecutors at Beijing's Chaoyang district court said Qin had "impacted society and seriously harmed social order" by "creating and spreading rumours", with his targets on Sina Weibo, the country's version of Twitter, including celebrities and China's former railways ministry.

The campaign against Internet rumours, which began last year, appears to be part of a concerted effort by China's ruling Communist party to rein in criticism that undermines its grip on power.

Chinese microblogs have become key drivers of public opinion in recent years, with bloggers drawing attention to official corruption, pollution and other issues.

"I wish this could be a warning to everyone," said Qin, according to quotes posted on the court's Weibo account.

"I wish everyone would cherish the free space on the Internet, and be a pillar of society. I am an example that you should take a warning from," added Qin, who was known as "Qinhuohuo" online.

- 'Discipline has been good for me' -

Qin apologised to his victims, and also thanked the media, the police and the detention centre in Beijing that he has been held in since his arrest last August, adding that the "discipline has been good for me".

He was shown on television with a shaved head, appearing contrite as he stood in court flanked by police.

Posts written by the 30-year-old and subsequently widely spread included one that Beijing had granted 200 million yuan ($32.2 million) in compensation to a foreigner who died in a train crash in eastern China's Zhejiang province in 2011, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The rumour was reposted 12,000 times within two hours and "angered Chinese netizens", Xinhua added.

Online reports said Qin had a number of Weibo accounts which were subsequently shut down by government censors. It is unclear how many followers he had.

The verdict in his case will be announced at a later date, the court said.

At the start of the Internet clampdown last year, officials told Internet celebrities with millions of online followers to "promote virtues" and "uphold law" online.

Chinese-American billionaire blogger Charles Xue was arrested soon after for suspected involvement in prostitution and "group licentiousness".

Xue had attracted 12 million followers on Weibo, regularly posting reform-minded comments on a variety of sensitive issues. Any links between his arrest and the Internet crackdown were routinely dismissed by state media.

Another of China's most popular bloggers, Pan Shiyi, was last September shown in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV, where he appeared contrite and warned of the dangers of "casual" online posts.

Under regulations announced last September, Chinese Internet users face three years in prison for writing defamatory messages that are then re-posted 500 times. Web users can also be jailed if offending posts are viewed more than 5,000 times.