Chinese police have detained two men and reprimanded another for “spreading online rumors” about the Chinese tech giant Huawei, Chinese state-run media Xinhua reported on June 13.
The move follows a fresh wave of internet crackdowns in May targeting foreign media websites and domestic social media accounts, as well as increased domestic sensitivity surrounding Huawei after the United States placed it on a trade blacklist that banned it from acquiring components and technology from U.S. firms without government approval.
The rumors that got those Chinese in trouble claimed that a number of Huawei employees, including some of its high-ranking management officials, had been arrested in China for spying on behalf of the United States.
The news circulated widely and was extensively discussed among users on WeChat, China’s most-used messaging platform.
Chinese authorities tracked down the inventor of the story, a man surnamed Wu, and another man who “exaggerated” it and spread it further, surnamed Li, who were arrested and punished with 10 days of detention, according to Xinhua.
A third man was reprimanded by police for forwarding the story to other chatrooms on WeChat.
Police had acted after Huawei filed a complaint about the rumors, Xinhua reported.
The punishment of the three men also followed an internet crackdown that coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, 1989, when Chinese authorities opened fire to suppress pro-democracy protests. Blogs and social media accounts with mentions of “sensitive” topics were shut down. Meanwhile, foreign media beyond Beijing’s control, such as the Washington Post and The Guardian, were blocked from being accessed.