Since the implementation of China’s Law on Management of Public Security on March 1, 2006, local Chinese law enforcement have, in an increasing number of cases, used the law to target ordinary citizens transmitting information on the Web or over mobile phone networks. Following a recent burst in such cases, including the recent arrest of a 23 year-old Web user in Jinan and the arrest in June of a Wuxi resident who claimed in a text message that cancer-causing agents in the polluted Taihu Lake were 200 times above acceptable standards, more independent voices in the Chinese media are asking whether the law is being used arbitrarily, in violation of citizens’ rights [Shanghai Daily coverage of Taihu pollution]. [See also “Pengshui SMS Case“].
For a bit of added context, this is the very same law local authorities in Changsha pledged this week to use “from this day forward” against any citizen “sitting quietly [as in meditation], kneeling down [as petitioners are wont to do], shouting slogans, carrying banners, or holding up portraits of the deceased [and the list goes on]” in public places.
According to Article 25 of the public security law, anyone spreading rumors, or making false reports of emergency situations with the “purpose of disturbing the public order” could face 5-10 days in jail and penalties of up to 500 yuan.
In a recent interview with Southern Metropolis Daily concerning the Jinan arrest, Tsinghua University law professor Yu Lingyun (余凌云) pointed out that “disseminating gossip” was not the same thing as spreading rumors to disturb the public order. The legal distinction, he said, was in the question of consequences — if the rumor did not directly cause a public disturbance, it could not be said to constitute a violation of the law. There also needed to be a much clearer understanding, he said, about the measures by which to determine “consequences” in such cases.
In an editorial today, CMP fellow Zhan Jiang attacked the use of the public security law to go after citizens engaging in what he called “normal human discourse.”
“Today, when the governing party and government are increasingly emphasizing the safeguarding of human rights,” he asked, “are citizens carrying on normal interaction via mobile phones to be free from fear, or not?”
Some of the most important human rights guaranteed in China’s constitution, said Zhan, were those in Chapter II, Article 35, specifying that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”
Zhan suggested that a rash of recent cases implicating Web and new technology users violated not only the spirit of Article 35 of China’s constitution, but the letter of the very law on which the arrests were made. The Law on Management of Public Security states, after all, that “the exercise of public security management should be open, impartial and respectful, safeguarding human rights and citizens’ human dignity.”
“Inasmuch as it is a constitutional right, those in power must first consider the protection of freedom of expression when exercising the lesser law [on management of public safety],” Zhan wrote. How, otherwise, can the government justify “heavily punishing” citizens in the name of “public order”?
[Posted by David Bandurski, July 27, 2007, 4:35pm]