BEIJING — Chinese authorities have further tightened controls of social media, warning that people who post comments deemed libelous that are reposted 500 or more times will face defamation charges and up to three years in prison.
Judicial authorities have said the rules also apply to people whose posts are viewed by at least 5,000 Internet users.
The decision issued Monday comes as authorities wage a campaign to clamp down on what they term “online rumors,” but that critics say amounts to curbing free speech. State media have accused some microbloggers of undermining socialism and Communist Party rule, and promoting Western values through lies and negative news.
The Internet and the rise of social media have provided a rare venue for the Chinese public to speak up and share information. Many famous Chinese — from pop stars and scholars to business tycoons — have substantial online followings and some call attention to social injustices and question government policies.
But since the installation of a new leadership in March, Beijing tightened controls over online speech under the guise of fighting online rumors.
In August, microbloggers were asked in Beijing to agree to seven standards: obey the law, uphold the socialist system, guard the national interest, protect individual rights, keep social order, respect morals, and ensure factuality.
Police around the country have rounded up hundreds of Web users on the charge of spreading online rumors. In one case, a journalist was detained in central China after he alleged that a senior official had been derelict with his duties. In another case, a man was detained in southern China after he said a group of revolutionary martyrs were bullying bandits. In eastern China, a man was taken into custody after he erroneously reported 16 fatalities in a car accident on his micro-blog. The death toll was 10.
The new rules issued by China’s Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate provide some clarity on how authorities will prosecute Internet speech-related activities deemed illegal.
The rules define serious cases of such postings by the social and financial damage caused.
The official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary that the rules targeted those who sought to defame and blackmail others online.
“These cases have done greater social harm than traditional offenses, with some even disrupting social order and triggering unrest,” it wrote.
China Central Television said the rules will safeguard freedom of speech while fighting online crimes.