As China continues to ramp up its censorship of Internet usage by its estimated 600 million users, the arrest of a 16-year-old boy is just one more statistic in the communist nation's war against freedom of expression.
Early in September China’s Supreme Court issued guidelines and penalties to punish those publishing what the state deems to be “rumors” and “slander.” If such a message is forwarded more than 500 times or is read more than 5,000 times, the sender could spend three years in prison.
According to the Telegraph (U.K.), the boy's identity has not been revealed, but "The Beijing Times quoted a man, named Yang, saying police took away his 16-year-old son on Tuesday on charges of 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles' [over the Internet]."
The teenager had gone to a popular social media site called Weibo, where he posted his unhappiness with how a police investigation of a local businessman resulted in the man's suicide by leaping off a building to his death.
A spokesman for the court said that such a “gossip rule” was necessary. "Society has demanded serious punishment for … using the internet to spread rumors and defame people. No country would consider libel to be 'freedom of speech.'"
This latest ruling is an extension of a “white paper” published by the People's Republic of China (PRC) in June 2010, part of which proclaimed:
Laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains content subverting state power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honor and interests….
Within Chinese territory the internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty. The internet sovereignty of China should be respected and protected.
As early as February 1994 the PRC recognized the threat of unlimited freedom of expression that would grow outside of normal channels as the budding Internet gained purchase around the world. It gave responsibility of Internet “security protection” to its Ministry of Public Security. The next step toward Chinese Internet censorship was the requirement two years later that all Internet service providers (ISPs) be licensed by the state and that all Internet traffic be routed through one of four government-controlled networks: ChinaNet, GBNet, CERNET, or CSTNET.
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