Concerning tightening controls over online expression in China

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

His Excellency Zhang Junsai
Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Canada
515 St. Patrick Street
Ottawa, ON
K1N 5H3

Dear Ambassador,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE is alarmed by the Chinese government's new official judicial interpretation tightening controls over online expression, particularly in light of an intensified crackdown on political activists in the country.

This new judicial interpretation applies the criminal charges of defamation, creating a disturbance, illegal business operations, and extortion, to “online rumour mongering.” Bloggers who share “humiliating” information that is reposted over 500 times, or which accrues over 5000 views, will face up to three years in prison. Users who post sensitive or false information could face criminal charges, giving authorities a more explicit legal basis for prosecution. This practice would be deeply concerning as the aforementioned charges are already routinely used to detain and imprison individuals for their human rights activism.

In August 2013, Chinese authorities detained Chinese-American businessman and vocal government critic Charles Xue on charges of allegedly soliciting prostitution in a move that was seen by many as a government crackdown on free expression online. Additionally, over 100 news websites run by citizen journalists were also deemed illegal and forced to shut down.

The new judicial interpretation has the potential to be used as a tool of imprisonment against Chinese citizens exercising their right to free expression online. CJFE urges Chinese authorities to repeal criminal defamation laws and protect freedom of speech in the digital sphere.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Cc: His Excellency Guy Saint-Jacques, Ambassador of Canada to China
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs