Thappar v. Madras
Closed Contracts Expression
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Xi’an Yan Ta District People’s Court found the Defendants guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and sentenced them to imprisonment for terms varying from one year to one-year and three months. The Defendants fabricated and arranged for media coverage of a fatal accident on a construction site to force the government to mediate a dispute between the construction company and the village where the works were taking place. The Court reasoned that the Defendants conspired to fabricate news to be published on the internet, causing a public disturbance which is chargeable under Article 293 section 1(4) of the Criminal Law of People’s Republic of China. This limb of the section, “causing public disorder” extends to online behavior that causes a public disturbance.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression notes that some of the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources.
Defendant Wang was responsible for X Company’s construction project in Xi Feng Road. The project operated on the premises of Di Jia Pu Village which was in dispute with X Company, and the villagers obstructed Wang’s construction. Wang, after discussion with four other defendants, Shao, Guo, Ma and Bie, decided to fabricate fake news to cause some disturbance, thinking that this would force the government to mediate the dispute.
On April 10 2014 Ma, as instructed by Wang, pretended to do construction work with three construction workers hired by Shao. After being confronted by the villagers, they pretended to be injured and fell to the ground. Guo video-recorded the scene, Bie called the police and Wang contacted the media.
Wang was interviewed by People’s Daily Shaanxi Channel’s reporter and fabricated news that construction workers had been buried alive by gangsters. By April 24 the news had had 7733 visits on People’s Daily Shaanxi Channel Online. The news was subsequently republished by websites NetEase and Sohu as well as other media, causing many netizens to question public safety and to doubt the credibility of state institutions.
The Xi’an Yan Ta District People’s Procuratorate charged Wang, Shao, Guo Bie and Ma with a joint crime of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” under Article 293 section 1(4) of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Xi’an Yan Ta District People’s Court found that Wang, Shao, Ma, Guo and Bie conspired to fabricate news to be published on the internet, causing a public disturbance. It said that their actions amounted to a joint crime of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” under Article 293 section 1(4) of the Criminal Law of the PRC which provides for up to five years imprisonment, or 10 years for multiple violations, for the following offenses:
(1) willfully attacking another person in serious circumstances;
(2) chasing, intercepting, or cursing another person in serious circumstances;
(3) forcibly taking away, demanding, or willfully damaging or seizing public or private property in serious circumstances;
(4) creating a disturbance in a public place, causing serious disorder.
The offense has been extended to online crimes in respect of limbs (2) and (4).
The Court said that Wang, as a re-offender and the principal defendant, should receive a more severe sentence than the other four defendants Shao, Ma, Guo, and Bie who were first-time offenders and secondary parties and had voluntarily surrendered (Articles 65 and 67 of the Criminal law of the PRC) .
Accordingly, in order to maintain public order and pursuant to Article 293 section 1(4), Article 25 Paragraph 1, Article 26, Article 27, Article 65 Paragraph 1 and Article 67 Paragraph 1 of the Criminal Law of the PRC, the Court decided as follows:
The cited Articles to the Criminal Law of the PRC relate to causing public disorder (Article 293 section 1(4)), definition of a joint crime, principal and accomplice (Articles 25, 26 and 27), sentencing of re-offenders and those who voluntarily surrender (Articles 65 and 67).
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision contracts expression by imposing criminal liability on the defendants for expressing discontent. More broadly, the offense of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” both online and physically, is increasingly being used to target a wide range of activists, journalists, lawyers, and worker rights advocates with many observers concerned that the offense’s vague definition makes it almost impossible to defend.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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