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 abroad. Last week, two headlines caught our eyes. 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-based punk band, Pussy Riot, pulled an anti-Putin stunt called “punk prayer” that landed the members in jail. One member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, ended up 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 having a penchant for death threats. Then, she took a page from Ghandi’s playbook and went on a hunger strike — (and hey, good for her; you gotta do what you gotta do in certain situations) – at which point officials transferred her out of Siberia and into another detention center.

The Mordovian deputy warden, however, was not willing to let the accusations slide – so he filed a libel lawsuit against his ex-inmate, asking for 500,000 rubles ($14,000) and a full retraction. But the judge, surprisingly, said no-go to the suit. Surprisingly because Russia isn’t known for its defendant-friendly stance when it comes to slander and libel – especially when the plaintiff is an official of any stripe.

So, go Russian government? (Nah, probably not. But three cheers for this libel ruling.)

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), will have to spend three years behind bars for posting some not so celeb- and political-friendly quips. After being very publicly arrested, Zhihui decided to plead guilty to online rumor-mongering over comments he made on the Twitter of China, Sina Weibo. Publically, 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 draconian online defamation law. The controversial statute absolves law enforcement officials of needing a victim to investigate acts of online defamation. In other words, nobody has to complain about being defamed online; the only thing that has to happen is that a disparaging post or social media quip is either forwarded 500 times or viewed 5,000 times. (Hey Joe, can you get everyone in your office to click on this link so we can go after this author? Thanks.)

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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