China’s supreme court has announced that any online rumor ‘clicked and viewed more than 5000 times, or reposted 500 times’ can result in up to three years in jail for its original author, with a special exemption (of course) for state-owned news outlets. This latest headline comes after a series of crackdowns and high-profile arrests of online activists and/or rumor-mongering charlatans.
The new sentencing guidelines state that 500 retweets/500 views are the threshold at which a rumor becomes “serious defamation,” but that says nothing for political dissent or organizing, according to TechInAsia:
According to the document, posting untrue information online can also be considered “gravely harming social order and national interests” if it meets any one of a variety of conditions, including: “triggering a mass incident”, “triggering chaos”, “triggering ethnic or religious conflict”, “slandering numerous people and creating a negative social influence”, “harming the national image, seriously harming national interests”, etc. Posting content that meets any of these conditions might well result in a sentence much longer than three years.
If your job is with various State Organs, fear not! These penalties are only for the lowly rumor-mongering proles, as the LA Times notes:
The penalties would not apply to reports in the mainstream press that later prove false. For example, early Sunday morning, Xinhua reported that the international Olympic committee had chosen Istanbul as the site of the 2020 summer Olympics. In fact, it was Tokyo that was chosen.
It’s a good thing that the journalistic masters at Xinhua are in the clear, as we wouldn’t want them to get skittish about posting wildly untrue—yet consistently hilarious—slideshows and news stories. The Wall Street Journal and Southern Weekly also commented on the court’s wonderful disdain for free speech, and WSJ reports:
In a report published Thursday and since deleted from its website, the influential Southern Weekly newspaper challenged the use of the charges of provocation and incitement in online cases. […]
The report also noted that defamation was a matter for a civil lawsuit, not criminal prosecution, except in cases where the defamatory statements “seriously threaten social stability or national interests.”
By expanding the scope of both crimes to cover online activity, the new judicial interpretation “violates the principles of criminal law,” said Xu Xin, a law professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. […]
While admitting that rumor-spreading is a problem on Chinese social-media sites, free-speech advocates argue that authorities often define rumor broadly as anything that doesn’t appear on state media, which is rigorously censored.
Broadly defined? What could be more laser-specific than laws barring “creating unhealthy social effects” or “causing adverse international effects”?