Chinese authorities have purged the internet of over 200,000 posts and 40 websites that reference disgraced Communist Party leader Bo Xilai and his wife, who have been embroiled in a scandal involving the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Xinhua, the official state media agency, issued a brief three-line announcement about the crackdown on Thursday, as Chinese authorities attempted to control online speculation about the sacking of Bo and his wife Gu Kailai, a suspect in Heywood's murder, Agence France Presse reported.
A week ago, Chinese authorities announced they were shutting down 16 websites and had detained six people for “fabricating or disseminating online rumors,” according to a release by the State Internet Information Office, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.
Bo was the Communist Party leader of the Chongqing municipality, and had been considered a strong contender for a position in the upcoming once-a-decade national leadership transition. He was ousted from his post.
Heywood, who was close with Bo, died of over-consumption of alcohol according to his death certificate, but was reportedly cremated without an autopsy, GlobalPost reported. Gu has been detained as a murder suspect.
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China's weibos, Twitter-like microblogs that are wildly popular in the country, have been abuzz with speculation over the dual scandals, according to AFP. China is the world's most active online population, with 485 million internet users and 300 million registered micro-bloggers, Zhang Xinsheng, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told Bloomberg.
The widespread internet use has made it increasingly difficult for the government to censor information, and many users have found ways to circumvent the online crackdowns, such as referring to the political scandal as “the major news” to avoid being censored, according to Voice of America.
“If people put together a bunch of words that are normally fine, it is just much more difficult to track," the founder of Chinese media monitoring website Danwei.org Jeremy Goldkorn told Voice of America. "Because you cannot use filtering or software to track them. If they do not mention somebody's name [or] they do not mention any of the 'bad words,' [then] the speed of Weibo does allow these things to spread."
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However, some commentators are more surprised that the online buzz around Bo was allowed to go on.
"Even as Beijing once again asserts its heavy hand over the Chinese web, many are wondering why it waited so long," wrote Bloomberg reporter Dexter Roberts. "Indeed, more notable than the latest crackdown has been the surprising openness allowed over the past month."