Blog posts on article about Alibaba's China leadership links censored

BEIJING Tue Jul 22, 2014 9:22am EDT

A man plays snooker in a hall inside Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, April 23, 2014. REUTERS/Chance Chan

A man plays snooker in a hall inside Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, April 23, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Chance Chan

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Microblog posts about a New York Times article on Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding's [IPO-BABA.N] close ties to descendants of China's leaders have been removed by censors, a censorship monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Alibaba has been in the spotlight as it prepares its stock market listing - potentially the largest ever tech debut in the United States - particularly over its complicated web of affiliations and corporate governance.

One censored post on the Weibo Corp microblog included a Chinese version of the New York Times piece, with the comment, "It's not only Yahoo and SoftBank behind Alibaba," Weiboscope, a University of Hong Kong project that publishes and analyses censored posts, said.

Yahoo Inc, with a 22.5 percent stake in Alibaba, and SoftBank Corp with a 34.3 percent ownership are Alibaba's two biggest shareholders.

"That post was deleted not primarily because of Alibaba, but mostly because it mentions the leadership and their offspring, their sons and grandsons, involved in the investment," Fu King-wa, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre who runs Weiboscope, said.

"Usually this kind of post gets deleted primarily because it got a lot of attention and got re-tweeted a lot in China, and this caught censors' attention and so was on their radar," Fu said.

Alibaba had published a statement on Monday, which said that only the market was behind Alibaba.

"We are strongly against the article which is based on self-inference and imagination, as well as some media reporting over and over again on Alibaba's background," the statement said.

Alibaba and Weibo declined to comment on the deletion of the microblog posts.

The New York Times' English- and Chinese-language websites are both blocked in China.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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