China announces fixed-term imprisonment of up to eight years for ‘illegal’ online content

Chinese authorities in Qinghai Province have issued an urgent notice that calls for increased monitoring and management of online chat groups and individual users “at all times and in all places”, according to a podcast news in Tibetan and Chinese released by local Chinese government media earlier this week.

The notice bans posting and sharing of “illegal” information that “harms the nation and the Chinese Communist Party” failing which the consequences would result in fixed-term imprisonment of one to eight years.

The notice particularly targets online groups with more than 10 members each and requires all members of such groups to publicise the contents of the notice, exercise “self-restraint”, “keep a tight lip by not sharing rumours”, and stop sharing “sensitive information”.

Importantly all chat groups and individual users that are found posting and sharing illegal contents will be prosecuted as part of the ongoing nationwide crackdown on ‘black and evil forces’, the notice said.

The moderators of online chat groups are specifically instructed to shoulder major responsibilities in managing the behaviour of group members and the contents they share. The notice added that all relevant government departments including the internet authorities are “closely monitoring” all chat groups including their status updates or ‘moments’  and the offenders will be “dealt with strictly according to the law”.

The notice lists 10 rules that all online users have to observe:

  1. Do not share sensitive political information
  2. Do not believe in rumours and do not post/share them
  3. Do not send internal information to outsiders
  4. Do not send threatening information related to [above point]
  5. Do not share information related to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan before it is released by the government
  6. Do not share information related to the military
  7. Do not share documents related to state secrets
  8. Do not collect all kinds of unverified news reports
  9. Do not send all kinds of photos and videos of various [government officials]
  10. [All] must abide by the law.

In 2017, the Public Security Bureau in Machu (Ch: Maqu) County, Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province had issued a notice containing nine rules that are by and large similar to the current notice barring rules 4, 8, 9 and 10. Elsewhere in the Tibet Autonomous Region, local Chinese authorities earlier this year announced cash prizes of up to 300,000 yuan (approx. USD 44,000) for reporting illegal online contents that effectively criminalises free speech.

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