by Meng Na
BEIJING, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- After China issued a judicial interpretation defining what kind of online words can be deemed criminal a few days ago, Chinese society has given general support, while a few raised doubts if the rules would affect netizen's freedom of speech.
Any doubt is unnecessary. Clamping down on online rumors will protect,but not harm, freedom of discourse in China.
The freedom of speech does not mean freedom to make up rumors. No country in the world could tolerate freedom of speech which includes rumors or lies. There are boundaries to freedom of expression.
China is ushering into an unprecedented Internet era with about 591 million netizens, prosperous e-commerce and broad platforms, such as Weibo and Wechat, for netizens to express views. Moreover, many successful online whistleblower cases have demonstrated that Chinese netizens are becoming an important anticorruption force.
At the same time, Internet rumors or blackmail exist and could easily run riot. Online rumors circulate far more speedily and widely than those in real world and affect victims' reputations and interests more seriously. They inflict great emotional pain to victims and their families and caused vile social impacts.
From the angle of general netizens, facing up to the sea of Internet information, they have difficulty judging the authenticity of online information. Many have not accumulated enough sense of trust in social media and are still hesitant to freely share their views on those platforms.
On Sept. 10, China began to implement the ten-clause judicial interpretation which defines what kind of online behavior could be regarded as "fabricating facts to slander others" and what occasions could be regarded as "serious."
Among others, 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, the first of its kind to regulate online rumors in China, draws a clear line between what one can and cannot do online. It is a deterrent to malicious Internet users and in the long term will help build a healthy Internet atmosphere and boost general netizen's sense of trust in social media, making them free to express their views.
On the other hand, the judicial interpretation also draws a clear line for judicial workers on what kind of behavior should be cracked down on and what kind of expression rights should be safeguarded, so as to ensure more accurate law enforcement.
From decision on strengthening online information protection adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress last year to the newly-released judicial interpretation, a clear signal has been sent out: the development of China's Internet arena will not depend on any person's willingness, but hinges on law enforcement.
Governing Internet by law will make the Internet arena more credible and general netizens will be more willing to express views.