China teen arrested for controversial crime of spreading rumors online

Men use their laptops at a cafe in Beijing. A 16-year-old schoolboy was arrested last week under a controversial new Chinese crime of spreading rumors over the Internet.
(Wang Zhao / AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING -- A 16-year-old schoolboy has been arrested under a controversial new Chinese crime of spreading rumors over the Internet.

The boy, identified only by his surname, Yang, was detained at his junior high school in northwestern China’s Gansu province Tuesday and charged with inciting disputes, as part of a crackdown implemented this month.

The teenager’s crime involved Internet posts in which he questioned whether police were properly investigating the death of a man who fell from an upper floor of a karaoke club.


Authorities had ruled the Sept. 12 death to be accidental, but Yang suggested the victim might have been beaten to death and then thrown from the building, which was only two stories high. He also claimed a local court official had an investment in the club.

“Where is justice?” Yang wrote over the weekend in a message posted on his QQ account, a messaging service popular among young Chinese, and on a microblog on Tencent. “Three days and two nights have passed since the death, and the major media are not reporting the case.… People still don’t know the truth.”

The message was reposted 962 times and viewed thousands of times, in violation of the new rumor regulations. In a ruling Sept. 10, the Chinese Supreme Court declared that somebody spreading a rumor on the Internet could be punished if a message was reposted 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times.

The Zhangjiachuan County Public Security Bureau said in a posting on its own Internet account that Yang’s message “seriously disrupted social order.”

“After reading Yang’s posts, a few dozen unemployed people gathered at the scene of the death and started to chant slogans. Hundreds gathered and caused serious traffic congestion at the scene. The situation was out of control, disrupted social order and the police investigation into the case,” the security department complained.

Yang is a student at Yangjiachuan Middle School and comes from a poor family that runs a noodle shop, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily, which sent reporters to his hometown.


Since Yang’s arrest became public Friday, the case has turned him into a poster boy for free speech, galvanizing public sentiment against anti-rumor laws.

“This Draconian law is illegal,” wrote the activist Hu Jia on his Twitter account.

“Our government is even scared of middle school students,” wrote another critic of the Chinese Communist Party.

On his microblog page, Yang said he smoked cigarettes and sometimes drank alcohol but didn’t do drugs.

“I have all kinds of bad habits, but I also have my own faith,” he wrote under the user name Brother Hui. “I’m poor, but I don’t need your sympathy.… I’m not handsome, but I try to be a good person.’’

Yang’s family has retained a lawyer and vows to vigorously defend the boy.

“My son posted the messages purely out of a sense of righteousness,” Yang’s father said in an interview published Saturday in the Beijing News. “He does not have any hatred of his society.”


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