BEIJING (Reuters) - A popular internet microblogger confessed in court to spreading rumors about the Chinese government, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday, in the first public trial since China began cracking down on online rumors last year.
Rights advocates say China’s campaign to quash online rumors, which began last summer, is tantamount to crushing free expression. The government says the crackdown is necessary to preserve social stability.
Online rumors are particularly pervasive in China, where traditional media is heavily regulated by the government and public trust in the media is low.
Qin Zhihui 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 posted the rumor on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog, and the story was shared widely by other microblog users, Xinhua said.
According to the Xinhua report, Qin also told false stories about a popular television starlet and other celebrities.
No comment was available from Qin and Xinhua gave no indication of any defense he raised in court. The trial is continuing, Xinhua said.
The ruling Communist Party’s campaign to control online discourse threatens criminal penalties against those who spread rumors on microblogs that are reposted more than 500 times or seen by more than 5,000 users.
Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Paul Tait