Wild rumors abound on Chinese social media sites,
driven in part by a broad belief that the government always seeks to
cover up bad news and that state media are untrustworthy.
The man detained by authorities, who was identified only by his
surname, Zhou, and hails from the central province of Hubei, posted
the rumor over the weekend via the popular mobile messaging platform
Wechat, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"The post was spread widely among netizens and aroused panic among
the public," it said, adding that Hubei's health officials
had dismissed the rumor as untrue, since the province had yet to
report human cases of the H7N9 bird flu virus.
In the post, Xinhua cited Zhou as saying, "A doctor from Yichang
People's Hospital died of H7N9 at 4:21 a.m. yesterday."
The doctor was a pregnant woman aged 31, he added, and included a
"A baby is still in the mother's belly and doctors who participated
in the emergency treatment have been quarantined," he said.
"Multiple cases of human H7N9 infection were also found in other
regions in the province."
China has reported more
than 120 human H7N9 cases this year, including at least 31 deaths.
The government initially tried to conceal an outbreak of Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in China in 2002
and killed about one in 10 of the 8,000 people it infected
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China kicked off a tough campaign to control online
discussion last year, threatening legal action against people whose
perceived rumors were widely reposted.
Authorities said the move was needed to preserve social stability
and halt the spread of untrue stories that could cause panic.
Rights groups and dissidents criticized the crackdown as another
tool for the ruling Communist Party to limit criticism of itself and
further rein in freedom of expression.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by
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