, BEIJING, Jan – 29 — China’s efforts to set legal curbs on Internet speech will protect, not harm, freedom of expression in the country, said an expert in an article publicized by Xinhua on Wednesday.
Only by setting boundaries and a “bottom line” can order and freedom of expression be ensured online, said Li Yunlong, a professor with the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, in the article.
“The Internet is not an arena free from legal restrictions,” Li said.
It can only achieve openness and ensure the public’s rights of participation, expression and supervision with the prerequisite of establishing orders, he added.
With the fast growth of the Internet since the mid 1990s, China is ushering in an unprecedented digital era with about 618 million netizens in 2013 compared with 620,000 in 1997, when the country had only 299,000 computers with Internet access.
“Active government input in building the Internet has offered a new channel for the public to deliver speech and express views,” Li said.
The Internet has become an expression tool for citizens and their primary source of information, according to a report released by the China Internet Network Information Center this month.
Figures from the report show that China has 490 million consumers of online news, 430 million bloggers, 270 million people using microblogs, and 277 million social network users.
“Online remarks have now become crucial elements in shaping public opinion,” Li said.
The Internet is now an important platform for the public to participate in the administration and discussion of state affairs, communicate and conduct exchanges, and obtain knowledge, according to the professor.
Governments at all levels also solicit public opinions online when they introduce policies, laws and regulations, he added.
The expert hailed the Internet as an important channel for the government to get to know the people’s circumstances and pool public wisdom, saying online opinion is a good reference for officials to make scientific decisions which could benefit the people’s livelihood.
A rapidly growing Internet industry had brought about online security problems including gambling, pornography, violence, scams, rumors and hacking in China, posing increasing threats for public rights and interests, noted Li.
“The relationship between free flow and safe flow of online information is one of mutual interdependence,” he said. “Leaving harmful information to spread unchecked would hinder the development of the Internet.
It is the responsibility of governments worldwide to crack down on various online crimes to ensure safe flow of Internet information.”
Governing the Internet by law, ensuring order for online expression, and safeguarding citizen’s freedom of speech and rights have become important subjects for various countries, according to Li.
China’s Constitution clearly stipulates that citizens “enjoy freedom of speech.”
The government has also been improving legislation to ensure healthy growth of the Internet industry and protection of personal information online.
The top legislature approved rules on Dec. 28, 2012 to enhance the protection of personal data.
The decision uses the legal form to protect personal information security, set down network identity management policy, clarify the duties of service providers and endow government watchdogs with necessary supervisory measures.
On Sept. 10 last year, China began to implement a 10-clause judicial interpretation which defines what kind of online behavior could be regarded as “fabricating facts to slander others” and what could be regarded as “serious” violations.People will face defamation charges if online rumors they post are viewed by more than 5,000 netizens or retweeted more than 500 times.
If those posting rumors are repeat offenders, or if their online rumors caused the victim or the victim’s immediate family members to commit self-mutilation or suicide or experience mental disorders, they may also face defamation charges.
“China’s improving Internet legislation has helped to standardize online order and promote realization of citizen’s right of freedom of speech,” Li said.