China clears bloggers who criticized government

Beijing may be allowing more free speech, though within clear limits

Two Chinese bloggers separately detained for writing online about government corruption have had their charges dropped by police in recent weeks.

The cases reflect a possible move by Beijing to allow more free speech, though within clear limits. Corruption has long plagued China's government, especially in rural areas, and allowing victims to express grievances online and elsewhere could help curb the problem.

Police in northern Henan province have dropped defamation charges against a man they detained earlier this year for posting online about a corrupt village election, state media said Wednesday.

The man claimed that the number of votes for his rival in the election exceeded the size of the village, the China Daily said.

The police who detained the man were disciplined after he gained public support by posting again about the poll, the report said.

Last month, a police official from the province apologized for the detainment of another man who blogged about illegal government land seizures, according to the paper.

A provincial police officer in Henan reached by phone confirmed both cases had occurred, but declined to give details.

China's Internet is heavily patrolled. Sensitive political content is often deleted immediately by authorities, or by companies who could be punished if the content stays on their Web sites.

Beijing may believe a higher level of free speech will serve its interests, said Joshua Rosenzweig, a senior researcher at the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights advocacy group.

In recent weeks a number of people detained for criticizing local governments have seen their situations improve after news of their cases spread through the press or online, said Rosenzweig.

But any easing on free speech is unlikely to extend to criticisms of the overall government system, Rosenzweig said.

"It looks like it's limited to criticism of local officials," Rosenzweig said. "Despite the small progress, there will continue to be serious limitations."

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