Debate rages over release of 'rumormonger'

By Zhang Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2013-9-24 1:13:01

Parents and children watch performance art that criticizes online rumors at Liaocheng University in Shandong Province on August 23, as the performer cuts a board with the words “online rumors.” Photo: CFP

The release of a high school student who was detained for spreading rumors online was hailed on Monday as a victory over a local government's implementation of the latest Criminal Law interpretation targeting online rumors. However, observers warned that painting the boy as a hero to vent their discontent against tighter online regulations is irresponsible.

Yang Yong, 16, from the Zhangjiachuan Hui Autonomous County of Gansu Province, was detained on September 17, after placing posts on his Tencent Weibo on September 14 and 15 questioning the investigation of the local police into a death that police concluded was a suicide. He alleged that it was a murder and the police were trying to hide the truth. He also called for a demonstration to protest.

"Yang shouldn't be detained according to the Criminal Law. He just didn't know the information was untrue," Wang Shihua, Yang's lawyer, told the Global Times on Monday, adding that Yang's release showed that the police had made a mistake.

Wang said Yang's father has decided to sue the police.

The provincial public security bureau did not admit the local police had made a mistake, but said the change from criminal to administrative detention is based on Yang's age and acts of repentance, according to Xinhua.

The recent interpretation released by the Supreme People's Court stipulates that fabricating rumors online or spreading untrue information consciously constitute a crime if such actions cause "severe public disorder."

"It is not a victory for Net users. Yang was just a schoolboy who happened to be the first one after the interpretation was released," Chen Tao, a member of the Criminal Law Committee of the Beijing Lawyers Association, told the Global Times on Monday, adding that the release of the judicial interpretation was a victory, as it protected Yang from harm.

Dozens of people gathered on September 14 outside a karaoke club where the deceased allegedly jumped to death to protest against the police.  The police then punished seven Net users who spread rumors, fining five people and putting one into administrative detention. They detained Yang, the youngest of the seven, for "provoking trouble," which is a criminal act according to the newly published judicial interpretation of online crimes.

After being released, Yang wrote on his Weibo that he regretted not checking the truth of the information he posted.

However, Chen said the local authorities have not properly applied the Supreme People's Court's latest interpretations of the Criminal Law. "Yang didn't break any law because he didn't do it on purpose, but he was put into jail for about a week," Chen said, adding that local governments should be careful in wielding their public power.

Angry Net users began to muckrake local officials as soon as Yang was reported to have been put in detention, exposing Liu Changjiang, the county's Party chief, for his use of luxury watches and Bai Yongqiang, the county's police chief, for bribing a former high-ranking local official.

The local government released a statement late Monday announcing that Bai had been sacked, without elaborating on the specific reasons.   

The provincial government has sent an audit team to the county to conduct an investigation into the governmental leadership.

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