Up to 7 years' jail for online rumours

BEIJING • Starting next month, China's amended criminal law will let the authorities sentence online rumour-mongers to as many as seven years in jail, the media reported yesterday.

The move came despite a survey yesterday ranking the country at the bottom in terms of global online freedom.

People who publish false alarms on natural disasters, police notices or deliberately spread rumours on the Internet will be held for up to seven years, depending on the consequences that the rumours cause, the Global Times reported.

The punishments have been written into an amendment to the Criminal Law, which will take effect on Nov 1.

China began in 2013 to implement a 10-clause judicial interpretation which defines what kind of online behaviour could be regarded as "fabricating facts to slander others" and what could be regarded as "serious" violations, said the Global Times. The interpretation rules that people face defamation charges if online rumours they post are viewed by more than 5,000 netizens or reposted more than 500 times.

The first ruling on Internet rumour-mongering took place last April in a local court in Beijing. The Internet user, who was convicted of defaming celebrities and the government, was given a three-year jail term.

China ranked last in online freedom among 65 countries assessed by non-government watchdog Freedom House. It fared worse than Syria and Iran.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'Up to 7 years' jail for online rumours'. Print Edition | Subscribe