News / Asia

Beijing Defends Law Criminalizing Online Speech

A man scratches his face as he uses a computer at an internet cafe in Hefei in China's Anhui province, March 16, 2012.
A man scratches his face as he uses a computer at an internet cafe in Hefei in China's Anhui province, March 16, 2012.
VOA News
Chinese authorities are defending controversial new online content policies that critics say further restrict speech on China's already heavily censored Internet.
 
On Monday, the country’s judicial authorities, the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate, issued a legal interpretation of the crime of defamation to include information shared on the Internet.
 
The measure states that people who post offensive micro blog posts that are forwarded by 500 people or viewed by at least 5,000 users could be charged with defamation, and face prison. The list of banned activities includes spreading online rumors, stirring up troubles, disrupting public order and harming China’s national interest.
 
Although the top court said the new interpretation of the defamation law is the result of more than a year of research and consultation with government departments and lawyers, internet users and Chinese legal analysts are questioning its legal basis.
 
Commentaries in state-backed media have defended the new measures. In the People’s Daily on Friday, a commentary said opponents of the law must understand that “freedom of speech is not freedom from rumor.” It argued that without rules governing online speech, it “will ultimately corrupt public order.”

Earlier this week, businessman and high-profile blogger Pan Shiyi made an appearance on state broadcaster CCTV to express support to the interpretation. Pan, who has more than 16 million followers on his microblog, said users should be 'more disciplined' on the Internet.
 
A legal debate
 
The guidelines were published after a month when authorities intensified controls on the Internet. More than one hundred people have been arrested for spreading rumors online through micro blogs and chats.
 
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang says the new measures  give police legal powers to censor online speech and prosecute those who create or even pass along content deemed defamatory.

“In China the Internet gives many the chance to express their ideas and thus advance the freedom of expression, but now the police will have an easy excuse to shut down conversation online” he says.
 
Li Datong, a former journalist whose work has been censored by authorities, said the court’s document is unconstitutional.
 
“It hasn’t been submitted for revision or undergone a legal debate” says Li. He thinks authorities are trying to fill in the legal gaps of censorship. “Just because some police actions sparked fierce controversy, it now creates a legal basis for the police to act in the way they want,” he said.
 
Chinese internet users are required to use their real names when registering online blogs or social media accounts. Critics say the law is unfair because people have no control over how many others view or repost content that may be objectionable. There is also the issue of “proving” cyber defamation merely from counting the number of people who have viewed an objectionable post.
 
“The libel is a crime defined by the serious outcome of the defamation. But on the internet it is not easy to determine whether reading a post or forwarding it really does a great damage,” said lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.
 
All agree that the new rules enhance censors’ power over online discussions.
 
Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Danwei, a firm specializing in analyzing China’s internet, said the rules enforce controls on speech without having to define what content is banned.
 
“It’s a clever way of framing the control because you’re not saying you can’t write anything online, you’re saying if you write something online and it gets spread widely you’ll be held responsible,” said Goldkorn. 

Rumor hunting
 
The judicial interpretation has sparked reactions among the more than 500 million people who have a registered account on Sina Weibo, the main micro blog platform.
 
One user writes "what they say is reasoning, what we say is rumors," and another echoes "this is an international mockery."
 
Many do not believe the guidelines will scare Chinese internet users, who have found a haven for independent and freewheeling discussion on the country’s internet.
 
“I think it will have a short term chilling effect, it’s obviously a coordinated campaign designed to take back control of the dominant narrative on social media and make it much more difficult for outsiders’ voices to express criticism,” said Goldkorn, adding online discussions will continue.
 
Others, such as former journalist Li Datong, suggest the regulations could create social disruptions by further driving government criticism underground.
 
“They don’t know that the Internet is simply the valve of a bigger pressure underneath," said Li. "They think that if you don’t talk about something it doesn’t exist. But it’s like a pressure cooker. If you don’t let a bit of air out the cooker explodes. So explodes the Chinese society if you don’t let people express their problems and grievances,” he said.
 
The Chinese government disagrees. This week, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said that China’s Internet is not outside the law and the government’s actions have been “highly supported” by Chinese internet users

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
September 13, 2013 1:51 AM
You lose face to abroad...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid