Internet users in China could face jail time under the country’s tough, new anti-defamation laws if found guilty of spreading rumors online.
China’s high court ruled Monday that Internet users whose rumors are reposted at least 500 times or viewed at least 5,000 times would be liable for prosecution under the law.
The standard sentence for violating the law? Three years.
China, boasting the world’s largest population of Internet users, has seen a number of officials exposed for corruption via the popular microblog Sina Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter. The new defamation laws, which have targeted journalist, bloggers and companies alike, aim to crack down on online free speech, according to Raw Story.
"People have been hurt and reaction in society has been strong, demanding with one voice serious punishment by the law for criminal activities like using the internet to spread rumors and defame people," said court spokesman Sun Jungong. "No country would consider the slander of other people as 'freedom of speech'."
A “serious case” of defamation would mean any false information that leads to protests, social unrest or psychotically agony to its subjects, or post relating to blackmail or extortion, according to AFP.
Police detained 27 people last month in the central city of Wuhan in connection with an “online rumor speculation company.”
Last month, China’s most popular Internet personalities were warned to “promote virtues” online and “uphold the law.”
In recent months, social media has revealed wealth disparity and corruption among prominent Chinese officials. Pictures online of Yang Dacai, a former provincial safety official, wearing expensive wristwatches caused a public outcry against greed and corruption. The public servant was clearly living beyond his means. Last week Dacai was sentenced to 14 years in prison for accepting bribes and possessing assets of unclear origin.
The Dacai’s case led to a corruption inquiry and the launch of President Xi Jinping’s widespread anti-bribery campaign, according to The Verge.
But could netizens reasonably reveal corruption and bring lawbreakers to justice now under the new defamation law?