China’s “Cleaning the Internet” initiative has yielded 15,000 arrests to-date, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced Tuesday. The program started in July to prosecute “Internet security crimes” including, hacking, fraud, and the illegal sale of personal information.
The announcement comes three days after China’s Cyberspace Administration shut off 18 news websites and suspended 32 others for “spreading false rumors” and “inciting panic” about warehouse explosions which killed over 100 people on August 12 in Tianjin.
In addition to targeting individuals, Chinese law enforcement has investigated 66,000 websites for posting “illegal and harmful information” that relate to such vices as pornography, weaponry, and gambling.
Xiao Qiang, professor at the University of California – Berkley, School of Information, said that some of the arrests could have come from freedom of speech cases – an area which he described as being “very tight”, referring to government oversight in China.
In July, 200 lawyers and political activists were detained for questioning by Chinese police after the Ministry of Public Security began an investigation of two particular activists. From there, the government probe expanded to include “a major criminal syndicate . . . composed of ‘rights defense’ lawyers.”
Specifically, the ministry described a prominent Beijing human rights law center as a “major criminal gang” which was “disturbing social order.”
China imposes a strict online censorship policy, known colloquially as the Great Firewall. Such popular U.S. sites such as Facebook, Youtube, Google, Twitter, and Instagram are all inaccessible in mainland China.
[Reuters] [Al Jazeera] [Photo courtesy Reuters/Kacper Pempel]