China considers criminal charges, including jail time, for military rumour-mongers

People in China accused of spreading rumours about the military could face criminal charges, including jail time, if Beijing goes ahead with a proposal to tighten the criminal code.

The forces newspaper PLA Daily said on Friday that the proposed changes to the criminal law would be considered in March at the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.

Jiang Yong, political commissar of the Beijing Garrison and a People’s Liberation Army representative on the NPC, led the proposal at last year’s congress to beef up the legislation targeting rumour-mongers, especially those who spread malicious lies about the PLA on the internet.

“In recent years, online rumours grew rapidly with more than 10,000 cases every year,” Jiang told the PLA Daily.

“Some opinion leaders made use of the online frenzy to slander the PLA and sully the image of the military. This has created very bad social influences.”

The full text of the legislative changes is not yet available but the PLA Daily report confirmed that the proposal, which was supported by 36 delegates in addition to Jiang, was approved by the NPC Standing Committee in December.

In April last year the Standing Committee passed legislation banning the slander of “heroes and martyrs” and imposing administrative penalties on anyone who damaged memorials or insulted and defamed war heroes and other national figures.

The Chinese authorities have a history of punishing those who spread unconfirmed negative information about the military.

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After a sexual harassment scandal around a Beijing kindergarten broke in 2017, a woman was briefly detained for alleging the case involved serving members of the PLA. Her accusations were later denied by the military.

Ten people were also briefly detained or warned by local authorities in 2015, for “fabricating and disseminating rumours” about the PLA, according to official reports at the time.

Jiang said people who spread such rumours had not received the punishment they deserved.

“[We] must strengthen the law and the legal system so the rumour-mongers receive the punishment they deserve and the prevalence of online rumours can be effectively stopped,” he said.

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Wu Ge, an independent military commentator based in Beijing, said the new law could make it more difficult for the public to exercise any checks on the PLA.

“The PLA already enjoys a very special status,” he said.

“Strict restrictions on media coverage about almost anything related to the military are already in place.”

Wu said heavier penalties, including prison terms, could be expected in future.

“The punishment is usually administrative detention [up to 15 days], but the military obviously wants jail terms for such offences now.”

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