A marketing associate with a firm that specialised in exploiting sensational cases to drive internet traffic has pleaded guilty to charges of defaming the railway ministry.
It is the first known case to apply new penalties for internet rumour-mongering, following an interpretation by legal authorities in September last year.
Qin Zhihui, 30, was accused of defamation and disturbing public order. Prosecutors said Qin used his weibo, or microblog, to claim the now-defunct Ministry of Railways in 2011 made a €30 million (HK$322 million) payout to the family of a foreign victim of a train crash in Wenzhou, while denying equal treatment to Chinese victims.
Qin and three colleagues at Beijing marketing firm Erma were detained last August for spreading online rumours. Erma allegedly generated rumours about government officials and exploited sensational cases, like that of Guo Meimei, the Red Cross staffer with a lavish lifestyle, to drive traffic to certain websites.
Qin arrived at Beijing's Chaoyang district court at 9am for the hearing.
"I don't want to defend myself," Qin said, according to the court's live-blogging of the proceedings on its official weibo account. "I just want to say that I hope my experience is a lesson to other microbloggers."
The prosecutor said Qin began in 2011 to target public figures, such as retired major general Luo Yan, television personality Yang Lan , and Zhang Haidi, an advocate for the disabled.
Qin testified that he saw microblog messages saying the ministry offered €20 million to the family, but increased the figure to €30 million because "it read better". His on August 20, 2011, was shared 12,000 times on weibo.
The Wenzhou train accident killed 40 people and injured nearly 200 others on July 23, 2011. An attempt to bury a mangled carriage provoked outrage.
In mitigation Qin's defence argued the posts did not seriously harm society. The defence produced other posts about the crash and argued, based on unique IP addresses, that Qin's post could have been uploaded by someone else.
People who post false messages which are viewed more than 5,000 times or reposted more than 500 times can be charged with defamation.