Beijing to Punish Mobile SMS Users for “Endangering Public Security” and “Spreading Rumors”Comments Off on Beijing to Punish Mobile SMS Users for “Endangering Public Security” and “Spreading Rumors”
Beijing to Punish Mobile SMS Users for “Endangering Public Security” and “Spreading Rumors”
(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, December 23, 2007) – On December 17, the Beijing municipal government released the “Notice Regarding the Further Regulations and Management of the Use of Mobile Phone Text Messages in the Release of Public Information” (hereafter referred to as “the Notice”), which restricts the use of text messaging in disseminating public information.
According to the Notice, individuals who send mobile phone text messages that “propagate and spread rumors” and “endanger public safety” will be investigated and reprimanded according to the law by the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) together with the Telecommunications Department, as well as relevant government departments and telecommunications companies.
In China, where there is limited media freedom and where an average of 180 million text messages are sent every day, text messaging has become one of the most important means of receiving information unavailable in the mainstream media. Text messaging has been termed “the Fifth Media” and it has become a tool for concerned citizens to find out about, and take actions against, unpopular government decisions. For example, in 2007, in Xiamen, an anti-pollution SMS message was widely circulated, and its circulation culminated in a mass protest, forcing the Xiamen government to abandon its plan to build a large chemical plant in the suburbs.
The Notice raises serious concerns over the restriction of freedom of expression in China. Crimes such as “spreading rumors,” “slander” and “endangering public security/safety” in China have been consistently employed by authorities to prosecute freedom of expression, especially in the media. Now it appears that the Beijing government intends to employ similar methods to restrict freedom of expression in text messaging. Cases of persecution of individuals expressing opinion via SMS messages in China have already been documented. For example, in August 2006, Qin Zhongfei (秦中飞), of Pengshui County, Chongqing City, Sichuan Province was detained for a month for sending a text message that contained a poem criticizing the local government. He was charged on suspicion of “slander” but was later released on bail. The Notice of the Beijing municipal government may indicate the increasing desire of governmental authorities to control the spread of new media, such as the internet and mobile phone text messaging.
CHRD is seriously concerned that the Beijing government may use the Notice to further restrict freedom of expression, a basic human right guaranteed in Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed (though not yet ratified).
The Notice also violates Chinese citizens’ right to privacy. According to Article 40 of the Chinese Constitution, “the freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are protected by law. No organization or individual may, on any ground, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of citizens’ correspondence except in cases where, to meet the needs of state security or of investigation into criminal offences, public security or procuratorial organs are permitted to censor correspondence in accordance with procedures prescribed by law.”(emphasis added) Article 4 of the PRC Postal Law also contains similar provisions. In China, only the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee can promulgate laws, according to Article 7 of China’s Legislative Laws. Therefore, the Beijing municipal government has no power to promulgate laws infringing upon citizens’