Posted by: mulrickillion | March 7, 2012

Will Real-Name Rule Silence Net?

Source: Global Times

Economic Observer News, March 5, 2012 —

Summary: When a blogger was sentenced to two years of reeducation-through-labor, his treatment sent shivers down the spines of many Chinese internet users.

By Yang Tao (杨涛)
Economic Observer Online
Feb 22, 2012
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article:
[
Chinese]

Whenever there are rumors about public events, people always end up being taken into custody and going through reeducation through labor facilities.

The Beijing Times reported on Feb 28 that the Ministry of Health had responded to rumors that the respiratory disease SARS had broken out in Hebei province, but it was later clarified that the virus wasn’t SARS, but a less serious infection.

According to local police, the person who propagated the story of SARS’ reemergence has been sentenced to two years at a reeducation-through-laborcenter.

Newspapers reported that the propagator, Mr Liu, did so “in order to attract viewers to his website,” where he suggested that a SARS infection had occurred in Baoding-based People’s Liberation Army Hospital 252 on Feb 19. The reports indicate that Liu did not fabricate the news, he only circulated the rumor.

Under the law, a person can’t be punished for spreading false information unless they admit that they knew it was false.

As an administrative penalty, Liu must acknowledge that he knew the information was false before spreading it. Under the law, a person can’t be punished for spreading false information unless they admit that they knew it was false.

If he did hear other people talking about it, and, for the sake of making it public, simply posted what he had heard online without confirming it, then it is not proper to punish him. According to the announcement by the local police, he just spread the rumor “without confirming it”.

Liu’s sentence of two years of reeducation-through-labor raised questions about people’s freedom of speech and the government’s reach over its citizens. Based on the supposed offense – spreading an unconfirmed rumor – and the related punishment – two years of reeducation-through-labor – citizens are worried about their own right to conduct "public supervision".

In times of emergency, the amount of public information is very limited, and, for various reasons, the government often hides the truth. For example, while rumors in 2003 were circulating about a SARS outbreak, government officials lied openly during a press conference, causing additional harm to those who were unprepared for the virus.

The best way to prevent rumors isn’t to require citizens to get confirmation before passing on what they hear, or to send people for reeducation-through-labor, it’s to disclose information in a timely manner.

Regulators, however, focus on administrative and criminal punishments for spreading rumors.

In addition, the introduction of the real-name registration system will not only allow authorities to track down those accused of spreading rumors with greater ease, with the threat of punishment, it will also pressure citizens to no longer discuss rumors.

It’s easily conceivable that this system of real-name registration will make internet users fearful of commenting on hot topics. Once the real-name system is implemented, officials will have easy access to the names of people who are criticizing them, enabling them to punish the offenders accordingly.

It may even be impossible to announce or comment on emergency situations. If an official wants to hide something, he can prevent internet users from using microblogs as a platform.

Of course, when the real-name registration system is combined with punishments for bloggers according to the consequences of their posts, it’s doubly powerful. Since many bloggers will be unable to vouch for the veracity of news that they pass on, officials will be able to punish internet users freely – who, then, will dare to criticize and supervise government officials?

Links and Sources

Global Times Hebei SARS rumor instigator arrested
Weibo to start real-name registration
People’s Daily China\’s microblogs enhance public’s supervision of government

Will Real-Name Rule Silence Net? – Economic Observer News- China business, politics, law, and social issues

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Responses

  1. I wonder how they will control this if implemented? Seems like you could register under a false name. Interesting post.

    • Good point, but actually it may be easier than you think.
      Because on occasions, when going to an internet bar, I have actually had to write my name and address first. So, if they are really nailing this guy (i.e., reeducation camp), then the Chinese netizens should be sweating bullets, and I am sure they are. Imagine the pressure they will be on the internet bars. 🙂

  2. Very informative post. Clearly governmental efforts to suppress dissenting opinions is not restricted to the PRC. (SOPA and PIPA which have more far-reaching implications come to mind).

    As to “re-education” I couldn’t help immediately think of Tom Stoppard’s play, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” – a wonderful work depicting the former Soviet Union’s way of dealing with political critics and the insane. Sadly, the play is seldom performed because of it’s requirement of needing a full orchestra.

    • I must say that you have a perceptive eye, because I would have never thought about the similarities between the new rule and Stoppard’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”. With that being said, I agree with you about what could be characterized as a unique, and maybe even now an archaic form, of state censorship. Your analogy is really appreciated. Otherwise, thank you for your comment. 🙂


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