China detains man for selling 'false' reports to foreign website

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Police in Beijing have detained a man for selling and posting "fabricated information" to a foreign website, state media said on Tuesday, as China tightens its grip on the Internet ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Xiang Nanfu, 62, published "lots of false stories" on the website of the US-based Chinese news portal Boxun since 2009, the official Xinhua news agency said.

These included stories about the Chinese government having harvested organs from living people and burying them alive and police beating a pregnant woman to death in a land dispute, Xinhua said, citing police in the Chinese capital.

"Xiang's actions were instigated, and highly paid with US 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 added, quoting police.

The People's Daily said Xiang was taken into custody on May 3, but had confessed to breaking the law and felt "deep penitence" for his crimes. Xiang had asked for clemency, it added, but said the case needed further investigation, implying he could be jailed. Neither report said what punishment he could be given.

Boxun, which is blocked in China, often runs sensational stories of varying degrees of accuracy on unrest or 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.

In a statement on its website, Boxun rejected the charges against Xiang, saying it had always sought to report the facts though limited resources did not permit it to pay huge sums to its volunteer citizen reporters in China.

"Boxun strongly protests the seizing of Boxun's reporter Mr Xiang Nanfu," it said. "This is another clear sign of the rapid worsening of China's human rights."

China is in the midst of a harsh crackdown on dissent in the run-up to the anniversary of the crushing of pro-democracy protests around Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989. Chinese authorities last week detained an outspoken journalist and political activist accused of providing state secrets to foreign contacts.

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 US television shows were pulled from Chinese video sites. At the same time, authorities stepped up their battle on pornography, revoking some online publication licences of one of China's largest Internet firms, Sina Corp, for allowing "lewd and pornographic" content.