China's top court declares harsh punishments for issuing false terrorism threats
Top court declares five-year minimum sentence for fabricating and spreading terrorist warnings
China's top court has decided to administer harsh punishments to those found guilty of fabricating and spreading false terrorist threats following government moves to rein in online rumours.
The judicial interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court yesterday and which takes effect today set out to clarify the criteria that constitute criminal charges for fabricating and intentionally circulating threatening information in both cyberworld and real life.
The document was released following an increasing number of cases of fabricating and spreading false terrorist threats in recent months targeting civilian airlines, the court's spokesman, Sun Jungong , said.
Under the interpretation, a person will face a minimum of five years in prison if he or she fabricates or intentionally circulates false threatening information that seriously harms another person or slightly injures more than three people or hampers major national events.
Also deemed as a "serious offence" is a false threat that results in economic loss of more than 500,000 yuan (HK$634,000) or social disorder in a county level area or above, the court said.
For those whose false threats result in flight diversions, emergency landings or suspension in train or ship services, a maximum of five years in jail will follow. This jail term also applies to offences that result in 200,000 yuan of financial loss and involve fabricating or spreading false threats more than three times.
The new interpretation has detailed six activities that may constitute crimes of fabricating and spreading false threats. It specifies for the first time that causing public chaos in densely populated places such as airports, bus stations, piers, shopping malls, cinemas and sports stadiums would involve criminal charges.
But it also vaguely states "other activities that seriously disrupt social order" will be punished.
Rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said the interpretation could provide leeway for police to detain activists.
"Basically the police could arrest anyone based on the new interpretation and it brings fear to the public," said Liu. "This use of law as a weapon for the police is an assault of the basic notion of law."
At least 22 civilian flights were affected between May 15 and May 18 in six separate cases involving several mainland airports receiving anonymous phone calls to report nonexistent bomb threats. The new legal document is also part of the government's ongoing campaign to rein in the internet. Earlier this month, the top judicial authorities issued a controversial document allowing people to be charged for defamation on spreading online rumours if their online posts are viewed by more than 5,000 times or forwarded more than 500 times.