BEIJING Feb 12 Police in central China have
detained a man who spread "panic" with a graphic rumour about
the arrival of bird flu in his home province, state media
reported on Wednesday.
Wild rumours abound on Chinese social media sites, driven in
part by a broad belief that the government always seeks to cover
up bad news and that state media are untrustworthy.
The man detained by authorities, who was identified only by
his surname, Zhou, and hails from the central province of Hubei,
posted the rumour over the weekend via the popular mobile
messaging platform Wechat, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"The post was spread widely among netizens and aroused panic
among the public," it said, adding that Hubei's health officials
had dismissed the rumour as untrue, since the province had yet
to report human cases of the H7N9 bird flu virus.
In the post, Xinhua cited Zhou as saying, "A doctor from
Yichang People's Hospital died of H7N9 at 4:21 a.m. yesterday."
The doctor was a pregnant woman aged 31, he added, and
included a dramatic touch.
"A baby is still in the mother's belly and doctors who
participated in the emergency treatment have been quarantined,"
he said. "Multiple cases of human H7N9 infection were also found
in other regions in the province."
China has reported more than 120 human H7N9 cases this year,
including at least 31 deaths.
The government initially tried to conceal an outbreak of
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in China
in 2002 and killed about one in 10 of the 8,000 people it
China kicked off a tough campaign to control online
discussion last year, threatening legal action against people
whose perceived rumours were widely reposted.
Authorities said the move was needed to preserve social
stability and halt the spread of untrue stories that could cause
Rights groups and dissidents criticised the crackdown as
another tool for the ruling Communist Party to limit criticism
of itself and further rein in freedom of expression.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)