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 Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs