China has shut down more than 100 privately-run news websites since May this year, defending the move as part of a campaign against extortionists, but critics alleged that it was a crackdown on citizen journalists. The State Council's National Internet Information Office has closed 107 informal news websites and portals since May 9, according to a list obtained by the 'Beijing News'.
The websites included 'The Voice of the People', 'Democratic Legal Supervision Net', 'Chinese Citizen News', 'Justice Online' and similarly-named provincial websites, theHong Kong based South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.
Some government officials have spoken out defending the move.
According to Ren Zhanzhou, a spokesman for the city of Sanmenxia in Henan province, these websites have either not fulfilled registration requirements or they are "fake news organisations" or have "fabricated or collected negative news to extort companies".
Last year, independent blogger Zhu Ruifeng exposed a real estate developer honey-trapping a dozen Chongqing government officials on such a privately-run news website, People's Supervision, which he had been running since 2006. On July 17, censors took down his news website and disabled his microblog accounts.
However, People's Supervision is not mentioned in the list of websites shut-down by the National Internet Information Office. For Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with the Human Rights Watch, the crackdown contradicts President Xi Jinping's vow to "always listen to the voice of the people", when he assumed office in March.
Many of these websites, she said "provide opportunities for ordinary people to voice their grievances and to blow the whistle on official misconduct and corruption".