China has moved to censor discussion of its censor-in-chief’s censure, apparently fearful the country’s 750 million internet users might use his downfall to assail the Communist party’s draconian online controls.
One week after China was re-crowned the world’s worst contravener of internet freedoms, a leaked censorship directive indicated online publishers had received orders to extinguish debate over the toppling of former internet tsar Lu Wei.
On Tuesday it emerged that Lu, who ran China’s cyberspace administration from 2014 until last year, had fallen victim to Xi Jinping’s high-profile war on corruption.
The directive, dated 22 November, said: "Please close comments on websites, WeChat public accounts, Weibo etc.”
"Find and delete negative comments attacking the system, and so on,” the order, which was obtained by the China Digital Times project, added.
Attempts to post comments on stories about Lu’s demise suggested the leaked directive was genuine.
When the Guardian tried to post a comment beneath a story about Lu by the magazine Caijing on Weibo, China’s Twitter, the following message appeared: "Sorry, the content has breached relevant laws and regulations. It cannot be published.”
It was also impossible to weigh in on stories posted by outlets including ifeng.com, Caixin and Sina.
Party-run news groups including the Global Times, the People’s Daily, CCTV and Xinhua News had not opened below the line comments on similar articles.
The censorship order is far from the first time Beijing has tried to stifle discussion of how it stifles discussion.
In August, censors purged a Weibo post in which Cambridge University announced its decision to resist against Chinese attempts to force one of its journals to block politically sensitive articles.
Lu Wei had also sought to defend and conceal China’s censoring of foreign social media sites such as Facebook. "I have never used any of these websites so I don’t know if they have been shut down,” he claimed in 2014.