Two of China's most popular technology news websites went offline today after carrying news reports that linked the son of China's president to a corrupt African deal.
The technology news sections disappeared for several hours from major Chinese portals Sina.com.cn and NetEase.com when they started redirecting viewers to general news pages. Both tech sections had carried reports on a state-owned company accused of bribing Namibian officials in the last day, but those reports were missing when the web pages reappeared.
The suspensions appeared to be a government penalty against the companies for reporting on a sensitive political issue.
"I'm impressed by the bravery of Sina and Netease in attempting to report this at all," said Rebecca MacKinnon, a Hong Kong-based expert on the internet in China.
Information on top leaders' children has always been off-limits in Chinese media, though the internet has made it more difficult to control discussions on such topics, MacKinnon said.
Chinese police heavily patrol the internet, and internet companies run rigorous screening to prevent sensitive information from appearing on user forums or in search results on their sites. Companies can be punished if that process fails to catch certain political or pornographic content.
"This is not particularly surprising or different from long-standing censorship patterns," MacKinnon said.
A story posted on the NetEase tech page the night before its suspension cited English broadcaster BBC as saying that Nuctech, a Chinese company, was suspected of bribery in a deal to provide scanners for airports and ports in Namibia. The BBC report had said Namibian authorities wanted to question Hu Haifeng, the former company president and son of Chinese president Hu Jintao, but did not suspect him in the case.
The NetEase story did not mention Hu, but said Namibia wanted to question "relevant" Nuctech executives.
Sina's tech page carried a similar article the next morning, hours before the sites went down. After the tech sections returned to the portals, visiting the URLs of the scandal reports returned messages that they could not be found or had been deleted.
An employee who answered the phone at NetEase on Tuesday said its tech section was down for tests. Sina did not respond to a request for comment.
Nuctech's parent company, Tsinghua Holdings, controls a range of other technology companies including Chinese PC maker Tsinghua Tongfang.