BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese-American venture capitalist known for his controversial blogs has been released on bail after nearly eight months in detention because of a “serious illness”, Beijing police said amid a crackdown on online dissent.
Charles Xue, also known as Xue Manzi, was detained in August on a charge of visiting prostitutes, an accusation that activists said stemmed from China’s efforts to rein in social media.
China’s crackdown on online “rumor-mongering” is widely seen as a tool to halt criticism of the ruling Communist Party and has chilled political discourse, with high-profile bloggers saying they have reined in sensitive posts for fear of detention.
The government says the crackdown is necessary to preserve social stability.
Xue was released on bail because he was sick, Beijing police said on its official microblog. State television showed Xue on television on Wednesday night confessing to his crime, saying he was extremely sorry to his wife and children.
“(I) have committed a crime, have confessed and have repented,” Xue said on state television.
Xue’s lawyer, Qi Xiaohong, declined to comment, telling Reuters “it was not convenient for her to speak”. Xue could not be reached for comment.
In September, Xue, who had 12 million followers on Weibo, appeared on state TV in handcuffs to apologize, saying that “freedom of speech cannot override the law”.
China adopted tough measures to crack down on online rumors last year. People will be charged with defamation if posts that contain rumors are visited by 5,000 internet users or reposted more than 500 times, according to a judicial interpretation issued by China’s top court and prosecutor. That rule could lead to three years in jail.
Online rumors are particularly pervasive in China, where traditional media is heavily regulated by the government and public trust in the media is low.
In a separate case, a court jailed popular microblogger Qin Zhihui for three years on Thursday on charges of defamation and affray after he confessed to spreading rumors about the Chinese government, Xinhua state news agency said.
Qin had invented a story that the Chinese government gave 200 million yuan ($32.5 million) in compensation to the family of a foreign passenger killed in a high-speed train crash in 2011, Xinhua said. He also told false stories about a popular television starlet and other celebrities, according to Xinhua.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie