International Defamation Update: Russia & China

communist defamation
A pair of defamation lawsuits in China and Russia got us thinking about slander and libel in communist countries.

Periodically, we review online defamation debacles making headlines overseas. Last week, two caught our eye. First, Pussy Riot won a small slander victory in a Siberian court. Second, a fame-seeking teenager in China may be headed to jail, for defamation.

Pussy Riot Member Escapes Defamation Lawsuit

In 2012, notorious Moscow punk band, Pussy Riot, pulled an anti-Putin stunt called “punk prayer.” In the end, one member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, landed in Mordovian Prison, Siberia. After a few months in residence, Tolokonnikova penned an open letter about the jail’s conditions. She lamented the treatment of prisoners and accused the deputy warden of making death threats. Then, she took a page from Ghandi’s playbook and went on a hunger strike, at which point officials transferred her out of Siberia and into another detention center.

The Mordovian deputy warden, however, wasn’t willing to let the accusations slide . He filed a libel lawsuit against the ex-inmate, asking for 500,000 rubles ($14,000) and a full retraction. But the judge, surprisingly, said no-go. Surprisingly because Russia isn’t known for its defendant-friendly defamation laws – especially when the plaintiff is an official.

Chinese Teenager Heading To Jail For Twitter Defamation

Tolokonnikova may have emerged victorious in her defamation showdown, but it looks like her comrade in China, Qin Zhihui (a.k.a., Qin Huohuo), must spend three years behind bars for gossipy postings. After a public arrest, Zhihui pleaded guilty to online rumor-mongering over comments he made on the Twitter of China, Sina Weibo. Publicly, Qin Huohuo said he “fabricated stories” to “attract public attention.”

The reason Zhihui is receiving a harsh punishment for a seemingly simple act of Twitter bloviating is because China recently passed a super strict online defamation law. The controversial statute allows law enforcement officials to investigate all acts of online defamation, regardless of whether or not the the victim pursues the issue. In other words, nobody has to complain about being defamed; so long as a disparaging post or social media quip is either forwarded 500 times or viewed 5,000 times, law enforcement is free to investigate.

Government officials haven’t been shy about making an example of Zhihui, warning “The public should learn from this case.” A party spokesperson continued, “The Internet is a public space that needs order and is protected by rules. People who disrupt order on the Internet and attack others should be punished.”

Just goes to show that the “Internet” – unlike parents – is not the same no matter time, nor place.

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