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China Threatens Jail Over 'Online Rumours'
The Chinese government is significantly intensifying its efforts to crack down on those who speak out against it.
The expansion of an existing law, which gives authorities the power to arrest those who spread "online rumours", is a "major blow to freedom of expression in China", according to Human Rights Watch.
"Although China's cyberspace has always been tightly controlled and censored, the new criminal penalties for online expression are a direct assault on the relatively freer space generated by social media," said Sophie Richardson, China director at the organisation.
The Chinese government claims the tighter online restrictions are in place to "drain toxic lies from the internet" and to rid social networks of "malicious" and "libellous" content.
But there is growing evidence that they are simply rounding up critics of the communist leadership at an unprecedented pace.
When President Xi Jinping took office in March, he promised to "uphold the constitution and the rule of law [and] always listen to the voice of the people".
Various public statements by him had prompted hope within China and beyond that he was a reformer.
However, Mr Xi's more recent statements, which coincide with the crackdown, point to an increasingly hard-line form of governance.
In one speech, published by China's state-run news agency Xinhua, Mr Xi calls for a "strong army to seize the ground of new media".
Under a new law, introduced this week, anyone who uses Chinese online social networks to "send out false information that is defamatory or harms the national interest" could face three years in jail.
If an offending online post is seen more than 5,000 times or gets more than 500 re-posts, the source of the post faces prosecution.
The Chinese Government is the master of censorship. However, the growing power of the internet is presenting the leadership with a challenge.
The country's Twitter-like microblog, Weibo, has 400 million users, according to the latest statistics.
Some of its most high-profile users - called Big Vs because they have a "verified" status on Weibo - have tens of millions of followers.
Their views and the content of their posts therefore carries huge weight.
One Big V, Xue Manzi, was arrested last month and accused of soliciting a prostitute.
He was paraded on state television apparently confessing to his crime.
He is now awaiting trial and has been silenced from expressing his often outspoken views to his millions of followers.
And on Friday billionaire investor Wang Gongquan, a well-known figure in China, was arrested at his Beijing home by 20 policemen.
Mr Wang - who has often spoken out against the government - was told he was being arrested for "gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place", the same charge used to round up many dissidents.
Over the past few months, police forces across China have announced the detention of hundreds of people for posting "online rumours".
In Shanghai, police say they have arrested 170 people this year.
"In this never-ending cat-and-mouse game between the government and 'netizens' for real freedom of expression on China's internet, the authorities are setting new traps," Ms Richardson from Human Rights Watch said.
"At stake is one of the few mechanisms people in China have to hold authorities to account."
In a Beijing suburb Sky News met one man who is not afraid to speak out.
Hu Jia has already spent three years in jail and many more under house arrest for his criticism of the government. He knows many of those who are currently locked up.
"This country has a regime which rules by fear," he said in a soft voice.
"Citizens are surrounded by a wall of fear - unable to express themselves: one big prison. I don't want to be inside a prison, I want to be a free man. I will express myself freely. Nothing should stop me from expressing my opinions.
"We pay our freedom, personal freedom; we pay our health, because sometimes we will be tortured, sometimes we on hunger strikes as we fight back; I have liver problem, it's all due to long term battles. It also brings pain to our families."
In November, China hopes to be elected to the United Nations Council on Human Rights.
Mr Hu said: "We have to stop it, we must stop it. I think the Chinese communist government are the same as the former Soviet Union, even the German Nazi Party.
"Allowing China to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council is like a making an executioner a judge, that's ridiculous."