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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid