It's no secret that authorities in China aren't fans of online gossip, especially when it's designed to undermine politicians and officials. But they seem to be really clamping down on these rumors lately, with increasing reports of arrests and people being detained in the last month alone.
And the punishments meted out against these bloggers are pretty harsh, as South China Morning Post reports on how one guy living was arrested after a writing a Weibo post about an accident on a highway he had seen. The man was detained for five days simply because he posted, “Sixteen people died, including babies," and "Yet a local Communist Party chief didn’t allow us to take photos of the scene.”
Police justified that the arrest took place because the post was "against the truth," and that the accident had only killed ten people. Local authorities have since admitted that the punishment was too harsh following a public outcry.
And if you think this law against online rumor-mongering only applies in forums, think again. Even users of private messaging apps like WeChat are not safe from persecution, as Tech in Asia reports:
[If] police hold people to the letter of the law, almost anyone could be arrested for almost anything. Did you share a link to a news article that had an error or a misquote in it? You’re guilty of spreading rumors. Did you share a theory with a friend on WeChat that you don’t have ironclad evidence for? You’re guilty of spreading rumors. Did you say it’s going to rain tomorrow only to have the weather turn out to be sunny? You’re guilty of spreading rumors.
It's difficult to know exactly just how widespread these arrests
and investigations are since the information seems be leaking all over. And while China might not be the only country that have laws
designed to limit unfounded and potentially damaging rumors, it certainly is worrying to know how one misstep online can easily land you behind bars.
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