Authorities in a Tibetan-populated county in Qinghai have begun closing chat groups on the popular social media platform WeChat, accusing users of disrupting social order by spreading false information on the spread of China’s coronavirus, state media and other sources say.
Over 75 groups were closed and another 223 placed under supervision following a sweep of 16 villages and five monasteries in Mangra (in Chinese, Guinan) county in the Tsolho (Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to a report by the official Guinan News on March 4.
“Those posting information and comments on the internet should abide by [Chinese] laws and regulations,” the county website said, while not specifying what information deemed inaccurate had been posted and shared online.
“The police will not tolerate and will investigate and punish illegal acts that fabricate and spread rumors and disrupt social order,” the Guinan News said in its report.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 20, three county residents identified by the surnames Suo, Leng, and Gong were detained for spreading “false information” online on the spread of the coronavirus, the Guinan Public Security Bureau announced on Feb. 28.
Suo and Leng were sentenced to 10 days of detention and fined 500 yuan (U.S. $72) each, and Gong—the manager of their group—detained for five days, the county bureau said.
Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service, a Tibetan chat group member now living in Paris, but originally from Mangra, said he had learned from relatives back home that Chinese authorities were investigating the members of eight of the groups that were closed.
“The authorities are asking about the founders and users of the groups, and for what purpose those groups were created and where the group members currently live,” RFA’s source named Lophel said, adding, “I was forced out of two of those groups myself.”
“One of those groups was a group run by my brother, and I was kicked out of that one, too,” he said.
Official news not trusted
RFA was unable to confirm the content of the online postings leading to the closing of the WeChat accounts. Chinese official media meanwhile insist that only their own government-approved reports should be used for information on the coronavirus spread.
“There is no clear information regarding what ‘false information and rumors’ were shared on those Tibetan-created WeChat group communications,” the exile Tibet Times said in a March 4 article.
“But local Tibetans do not trust official Chinese news reports that much, and they try to get their news from outside sources,” the Times said.
Reported by Gaitho for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.