Jailed Chinese Blogger Confesses on State TV to Spreading Information Online

Charles Xue says he wrote "irresponsible" things on the Internet as the country's government crackdown on digital dissent intensifies.

Charles Xue, an influential blogger jailed for soliciting prostitutes, has confessed on Chinese national television to spreading irresponsible posts online, as Beijing intensifies its efforts to control online dissent.

Xue, a Chinese-born American venture capitalist who has made a reputation as a crusading web commentator, appeared on CCTV wearing handcuffs and a prison uniform.

"My irresponsibility in spreading information online was a vent of negative mood and was a neglect of the social mainstream," he said.

He told the Xinhua news agency that "freedom of speech cannot override the law."

The government keeps a tight hold on traditional media but it has found it harder to keep a lid on online dissent, even using the system of web controls known as the Great Firewall of China. Star bloggers often reach millions of people as their posts are retweeted or forwarded.

Although he was detained three weeks ago for soliciting prostitutes, most Chinese webizens believe he is in trouble for his outspoken views on the Internet.

Xue is one of the "Big Vs" -- "V" is a sign put at the end of the names of bloggers whose profiles have been "verified" as genuine -- with more than 12 million followers on Sina Weibo, a Chinese service similar to the banned Twitter.

In his self-criticism, he confessed to being “irresponsible” and egotistical and said he had started to act like an emperor.

Xue had offered to appear handcuffed to publicize the aggressive crackdown on users of Twitter-like microblogs, Xinhua reported, part of a Communist Party campaign to rein in a forum that's challenged the country's censorship regime.

Last week, another venture capitalist with outspoken online opinions, Wang Gongquan, was detained by police. He has been calling for political reform online and is part of the New Citizens Movement, a group that seeks civil society in China.

President Xi Jinping is asserting his authority before an important Communist Party plenum in November, and his government is placing new limits on critics and people who may spread online reports of party cadres' wrongdoing.

Internet users can now be charged with defamation if posts containing rumors are visited by 5,000 users or reposted more than 500 times, according to a judicial interpretation issued this month by China's top court and prosecutor.

Xue praised the legislation, describing it as "a good beginning." He said the Internet had grown wildly and urgently needed to be cleaned up and put in order.

The crackdown on rumors has sparked fears that government regulation will go beyond issues of defamation and lead to a bigger crackdown on online speech critical of the government and the party.

An influential Communist Party journal has condemned online speech critical of the party and government, comparing Internet rumors to denunciation posters during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.

"There are some who make use of the open freedom of cyberspace to engage in wanton defamation, attacking the party and the government," said an article in Qiushi, which means "seeking truth" in Chinese.

"The Internet is full of all kinds of negative news and critical voices saying the government only does bad things and everything it says is wrong," the article said.

Online rumors are no better than "big character posters," hand-written signs put up in public places during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution to spread propaganda, often denouncing people and institutions as counter-revolutionary or bourgeois, the article said.

Last month, Chinese state television broadcast a public confession by British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey, who has been held with his American wife since last month, possibly as part of a corruption investigation into multinational pharmaceutical companies.