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Hundreds Arrested As China's War On Weibo Escalates

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, September 9 2013

This dumpling soup does not contain dead babies. John Herschell/Flickr

When it comes to cracking down on online rumors, the Chinese government means business. Last week Global Voices Advocacy wrote that more than 450 netizens have been arrested and detained by the authorities. On Monday China's Supreme Court released a document that clarifies the offenses that can land netizens behind bars, and it boils down to a numbers game. Any post that passes a viewing and reposting threshold can be considered serious defamation.

A Tech In Asia article translates the essentials of the document:

[A]ny post “clicked and viewed more than 5000 times, or reposted more than 500 times” will be considered serious defamation. The court document itself does not specific a sentence, but defamation in general is punishable by up to three years in prison.

"It's far too easy for something to be reposted 500 times or get 5,000 views. Who is going to dare say anything now?” wrote Reuters, quoting a Weibo user.

China insists that it needs to put a stop to irresponsible rumors from spreading online like the story that soup made of dead babies was on sale in Guangdong province.

The three year imprisonment is the baseline punishment for defamation; if the “rumor” can be shown to have caused harm to “social order and national interests,” or if it triggers a “mass incident” like a riot, or any kind of chaos, or “ethnic or religious conflict,” then perpetrators can receive much harsher sentences.

Even questions are not exempt. A story on Tea Leaf Nation included this sample tidbit:

On Wednesday night, a man from Hebei province was held under administrative detention for posting “I heard there was a murder in the town of Louzhuang. Is this true?” Local police said the man was detained for “severely disrupting social order” and “generating fear among the masses.”

The censorship of such an innocent post makes it clear that the Chinese government will not limit themselves to censoring stories about dead baby soup.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.