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Chinese Twitter shuttered during murder trial

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One of China’s largest Twitter-like platforms, Sina Weibo, suffered widespread problems on Thursday afternoon leaving users unable to post or comment on the site just as the high profile murder trial of Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai, kicked off.

Users across the platform complained that they couldn’t post, comment or even re-post messages for about an hour. Sina managed to post a message to its official account on the platform at the time, however, apologising and claiming the site was undergoing emergency repair.

Some took to Twitter to explain what was going on. User @MissXQ posted the following: “Comment and repost function suspended for abt an hour on Sina Weibo.”

Meanwhile, @GreatFireChina, which tests blocked URLs within the Great Firewall tweeted: "No one can post anything on weibo now as the input space just disappeared FYI:Gu Kailai murder trial begins."

Although other platforms appear to have been unaffected by any problems, the timing of Sina’s outage has led to speculation that it may have been part of a wider attempt to silence discussion of the murder trial taking place at the time.

The event is seen as highly sensitive to the Communist Party elite, given that Gu’s husband Bo until recently occupied one of the most senior positions in the Party until he was forced out after allegations of corruption and even rumours of an attempted coup.

Following those rumours, both Sina and Tencent were handed out unspecified punishments by the government and forced to disable the comment function on their weibo platforms for several days while they purged them of the supposedly erroneous messages.

Given the murky nature of censorship in the People’s Republic, it’s impossible to tell which service outages are genuine and which have been mandated by government to quell debate on a sensitive topic, but it’s widely known that the web firms themselves have to practice self-censorship in these situations or risk the ire of the regulators.

True to form, discussion of the Gu case has been heavily censored inside China, with the major web platforms blocking posts containing keywords related to the trial such as the names of those involved, although some have reportedly circumvented filters by referring to Gu simply as ‘G’.

The trial in any case was over in a matter of hours, with Gu apparently not contesting charges that she murdered British businessman Neil Heywood with poison while he was drunk.

It's believed the guilty plea itself was forced as part of an attempt to limit foreign media coverage of the trial which would reflect badly on the Party and China itself.

Sina could not immediately be reached for comment. ®

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