Online users in China who share false information that is defamatory or affect national interest will face up to three years in prison if their posts are viewed 5,000 times or forwarded 500 times.
This is a new judicial interpretation issued Monday by the country's Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, which defines the criteria for convicting and sentencing offenders who spread rumors online that defame, blackmail or provoke, China Daily reported.
Those who fabricate information which damage an individual or organization's reputation, and share it through others can be charged with libel, a criminal offense in China, the interpretation stated.
However, online users who help expose corruption online will not face charges, even if their posts are not 100 percent accurate, Sun Jungong, a spokesperson for the court, said at a news briefing held on Monday.
Sun added prosecutors can only bring criminal charges for defamation if an offense has gravely harmed social order or the national interest. This includes causing mass dissemination of the rumor, disrupting public order and inciting ethnic and religious conflicts.
The judicial interpretation also states that profiting from helping people delete posts is illegal, and anyone who gains more than 20,000 yuan (US$3,270) through this practice will see their case treated as "serious".
According to the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, these activities will lead to libel, provocation and blackmail charges:
- Spreading defamatory information online that is viewed more than 5,000 times or forwarded more than 500 times
- Spreading fake information that results in a mental illness or the self-harming or suicide of victims or their family members
- Re-offense within two years
- Threatening others by using false online information that results in serious public disorder
- Organizing others to spread fake information that results in serious public disorder
- Threatening others with the purpose of obtaining large amounts of money or property through posting or deleting online information, or repeated offenses
Over the last month, Chinese law enforcers have detained people for spreading false information as part of crackdowns on online rumors, but a lack of detailed guidelines led to inconsistencies in the handling of cases from province to province.
Just over the weekend, Web companies itxinwen.com and china.com have been charged in court for carrying rumors against a Sinopec executive, and asked to pay compensation for damaging her reputation. So far, prominent Chinese venture capitalist Charles Xue Biqun, investigative journalist Liu Hu, and Weibo users Yang Xiuyu and Qin Zhihui have been arrested and detained for fabricating online rumors.