BEIJING, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- People who post defamatory comments online in China will face up to three years in prison if their statements are widely reposted, according to a judicial interpretation issued on Monday.
The document, released by the Supreme People's Court(SPP) and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, stipulates that people will face defamation charges if online rumors they post are viewed by more than 5,000 Internet users or retweeted more than 500 times.
If those posting rumors are repeat offenders, or if their online rumors caused the victim or the victim's immediate family members to commit self-mutilation or suicide or experience mental disorders, they may also face defamation charges.
In China, people committing the crime of defamation face up to three years in prison or deprivation of political rights.
The judicial interpretation provides a legal reference for punishing online crimes such as slander, cases of which have increased in recent years, SPP spokesman Sun Jungong said on Monday.
Some Internet users fabricate rumors about others and create false information while making use of sensitive social issues, which has disrupted social order and triggered "mass incidents," Sun said, adding that the public has called for harsh punishment for such criminal activity.
The judicial interpretation, to be effective on Tuesday, is the first of its kind to regulate online rumors in China.
It metes out punishment for companies and individuals paid to delete online messages or intentionally post false information.
If a company's illegal gross revenues exceed 150,000 yuan (24,500 U.S. dollars) or its illegal gains surpass 50,000 yuan, it will face illegal business operations charges deemed "serious," according to the judicial interpretation.
The illegal gross revenue and gains amounts for individuals was set at 50,000 yuan and 20,000 yuan, respectively.
According to China's criminal law, people who engage in illegal business operations deemed "serious situations" can face up to five years in prison and fines of up to five times the amount of the illegal gains.
China's Internet communities, especially on microblog sites like Sina Weibo, have become an important channel for citizens to express views and expose corruption and abuse of power.
Sun said Internet users will continue to be encouraged to expose disciplinary and law violations.
"Even if some details of the allegations or what has been exposed are not true, as long as [Internet users] are not intentionally fabricating information to slander others...they will not be prosecuted on charges of defamation," Sun said.
Over the past month, police across China have detained a number of suspects and closed several businesses for fabricating online rumors.
A notable case has been the detention of two men in Beijing in August. Yang Xiuyu, founder of the Erma Company, and employee Qin Zhihui, were found to have created and spread online rumors, including false information about a 2011 bullet train accident and China's most famous Good Samaritan, Lei Feng.
While the crackdown on the spread of online rumors has been hailed by the government as a move to build a healthy online order, it has also prompted concerns about freedom of expression in China.
Sun believes the judicial interpretation is aimed at accurately cracking down on crimes in accordance with law, and that Internet users' rights to expression will be protected.
After the interpretation was issued, some Chinese Internet users voiced their support.
A Sina Weibo user identified as "Super Benjamin" said the judicial interpretation will stop Internet users from making irresponsible remarks.
Another user called "danchundewo2012" said a "civilized, rational Internet environment that is free of rumors is what Internet users really need."