Teenager Arrested For “Provoking Troubles” Over Online Comments
Last week, police arrested a 16-year-old from west China. He was living with his grandparents in a 100-square-foot apartment. According to witnesses, law enforcement officials cuffed the young man – who can only be identified as Yang due to his age – and hauled him away for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Formally, the young man was charged with “gross negligence and [calling for] citizens to protest.”
So what prompted the arrest, you ask? Yang publicly questioned the veracity of a police investigation involving the manager of a local karaoke bar. The police concluded that the manager committed suicide, but after speaking with the deceased’s surviving family, Yang was convinced the manager was murdered.
Unfortunately for young Yang, his online missive was either re-posted over 500 times, seen over 5,000 times or both. As such, his remarks qualified for action under the new Chinese online defamation law. If the courts find Yang guilty of the charges, the minor will face a 3-year prison sentence for spreading gossip or reputation-harming material on the Internet.
If you’re a fan of speaking your mind, you may be thinking, “who cares if this guy tweeted about his investigation suspicions; I’m always posting my opinions.” And if you are a U.S. citizen, you’re safe, because your opinions are well protected by the First Amendment. But things aren’t so open in China. In fact, the People’s Republic has some of the strictest online defamation laws in the world.
To put it bluntly: In China, if you say something remotely controversial that has the potential to besmirch public officials, expect law enforcement reps at your doorstep, tout suite.
Can You Publicly Criticize the Chinese Government If You Live in the United States?
If you live in the United States, you’re free to criticize the Chinese government so long as you don’t make a false statement of fact. That said, just because your statements may be fair game at home, doesn’t mean they won’t get you in legal trouble elsewhere. As such, it’s possible that a lawsuit against you could be filed in China if you say something derogatory about a Chinese national. If that were to happen, you probably could not travel to China without being identified and brought up on charges.
What would happen if a Chinese court found you guilty in absentia? Thanks to the SPEECH Act, U.S. citizens are pretty much immune from having to pay foreign defamation damages when the ruling doesn’t comply with American slander and libel law.
Do you have a legal question about an international defamation matter? If yes, then contact Kelly Warner Law. Our team of defamation attorneys are well-versed in online libel and international considerations.