Ru­mor­mon­ger rul­ing seen as les­son for pub­lic

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By CAO YIN caoyin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The na­tion’s first judg­ment against a de­fen­dant ac­cused of spread­ing fake ru­mors on­line has been hailed by judges and ex­perts, who call for ne­ti­zens to learn from the case.

Qin Zhi­hui, known on­line as Qin Huo­huo, was found guilty of defama­tion and caus­ing dis­tur­bances by Bei­jing Chaoyang District People’s Court on Thurs­day and sen­tenced to three years.

Qin, who re­port­edly de­famed celebri­ties and the govern­ment, said he will not ap­peal the rul­ing. He is the first per­son in China to be tried and sen­tenced for on­line defama­tion since au­thor­i­ties launched a na­tional crack­down last year against on­line ru­mor­mon­ger­ing and af­ter China’s top court is­sued a ju­di­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tion in Septem­ber to tackle on­line li­bel.

“The pub­lic should learn from this case,” said Hua Zheng­ming, vice-pres­i­dent of the Chaoyang court.

Crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity on the In­ter­net has been grow­ing rapidly over the past few years, and much in­volves the spread­ing of ru­mors, said Hua, who added that there are or­ga­ni­za­tions whose sole pur­pose is to cre­ate and dis­sem­i­nate ru­mors for profit.

“The In­ter­net is a pub­lic space that needs or­der and is pro­tected by rules,” Hua said. “People who dis­rupt or­der on the In­ter­net and at­tack oth­ers should be pun­ished.”

Qin, 30, a na­tive of Hu­nan prov­ince, stood ac­cused of fab­ri­cat­ing and spread­ing ru­mors via Sina Weibo, China’s largest mi­cro-blog­ging plat­form, to dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of celebri­ties and the Chi­nese govern­ment, the court said.

On April 11, he pleaded guilty to fab­ri­cat­ing sto­ries from 2011 to 2013 to at­tract pub­lic at­ten­tion.

Qin said in a post­ing in Au­gust 2011 that the govern­ment had com­pen­sated the fam­ily of a for­eign pas­sen­ger who died in the high-speed train dis­as­ter in Wen­zhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, more than 200 mil­lion yuan ($32.7 mil­lion).

The post­ing was re­posted about 12,000 times and at­tracted more than 3,300 com­ments within two hours. The govern­ment later said the in­for­ma­tion was not true.

Qin also li­beled four celebri­ties, the ver­dict said.

Un­der the top court’s ju­di­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tion, In­ter­net users who cre­ate and spread false in­for­ma­tion that is defam­a­tory or harm­ful to na­tional in­ter­ests can be im­pris­oned for up to three years if the posts are viewed 5,000 times or for­warded 500 times.

Cheng Manli, a me­dia pro­fes­sor at Pek­ing Univer­sity, said the na­tion­wide crack­down on ru­mor­mon­gers can help the on­line en­vi­ron­ment.

“I be­lieve that false on­line in­for­ma­tion has been re­duced af­ter the cam­paign be­gan and that many sources of ru­mors have come to light,” Cheng said.

Wu Ming’an, a law pro­fes­sor at China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law, said defama­tion cases should be han­dled by civil courts “be­cause in­di­vid­u­als who have been at­tacked are the ones who can de­cide whether their rep­u­ta­tion has been dam­aged”.

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