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China Arrests Four for Spreading Online Rumors Amid Clampdown

Chinese police arrested four people on suspicion of spreading online rumors as authorities tightened regulations on instant-messaging services.

The suspects used social-networking services to spread rumors or had forwarded rumors published on foreign websites, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported today. These rumors included predictions of an earthquake in Beijing and gunshots being heard in the west of the city, the news agency said.

China has been clamping down on the use of the Internet, instant messaging and social media since Xi Jinping became president in 2012. The government issued a law in September dictating that authorities could jail Web users for as much as three years if they post comments deemed defamatory. Police detained a man in eastern Jiangsu province for spreading rumors on the Moments function of Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat related to the killing of terrorists, Xinhua reported yesterday.

The four suspects may face defamation charges, which under Chinese law are brought against those whose posts are deemed to be rumors and viewed by more than 5,000 users and retweeted more than 500 times, according to today’s Xinhua report.

Police have also detained or warned 81 others for similar but slighter offenses, Xinhua reported, citing police. Sixteen websites have also been punished for “weak safety management,” the report said, without giving further details.

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