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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More