BEIJING – Police in Beijing have detained a man for selling and posting “fabricated information” to a foreign website, state media said Tuesday, in the midst of a crackdown on dissent in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the crushing of prodemocracy protests around Tiananmen Square.
Xiang Nanfu, 62, has published “lots of false stories” on the website of the U.S.-based Chinese news portal Boxun since 2009, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
They included stories about the Chinese government harvesting organs from living people and burying them alive, and police beating a pregnant woman to death in a land dispute, Xinhua said, citing police.
“Xiang’s actions were instigated, and highly paid with U.S. dollars, by a man surnamed Wei, who was in charge of the website,” the agency said.
“The false information has seriously misled the public and Internet users and denigrated the image of the state,” it said, quoting police in Beijing.
Xiang was detained under a law against trouble-making, police said. Violators usually are punished with fines, but the law also allows a prison sentence of up to five years.
Xiang was shown on the national Chinese state television noon newscast confessing and expressing contrition.
“I have made up things that are not facts,” said Xiang, who was shown wearing the green vest of a jail inmate. “My behaviors have caused a very bad impact. I have realized I have smeared the ruling party and the government.”
Boxun, founded in 2000 and based in New York, often runs sensationalist stories of varying degrees of accuracy on high-level Chinese corruption and human rights abuses, as well as other incidents that the government would either not allow to be reported or permit only in a highly censored form in tightly controlled state media. Access to the site is blocked in China.
The founder of Boxun.com questioned the validity of Xiang’s confession.
“The authorities could have used some means to extort the public confession, although we do not know what means they have used,” Watson Meng said by phone from New York. “Such confessions should not be valid.”
Meng said that Xiang had backed up his reports with photos and video footage and called him “trustworthy.” He said most were about people who petitioned the government over complaints about mistreatment by authorities.
Meng rejected an allegation by police that Xiang was paid “large amounts of U.S. dollars” for his reports.
“In the past three years, Boxun did not pay him directly, and he never sought payments from us, either,” Meng said.
China’s recent detention of six activists, including lawyers, professors and journalists, swells evidence that its leaders are determined to continue a clampdown on dissent, tightening controls on free speech and the Internet.
Last month, China’s top Communist Party newspaper warned there could be no Internet freedom without order, after several U.S. television shows were pulled from Chinese video sites.
At the same time, authorities stepped up their battle on pornography, revoking some online publication licenses of one of China’s largest Internet firms, Sina Corp. for allowing “lewd and pornographic” content.